Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Dutchman Suffers a Concussion while Working Dead

Lefty 'Entertainment 'Round-Up
What’s that about “bread & roses?”  Or was that ‘bread & circuses’?  I guess it depends on what you pay attention to.  Some meditations on current cultural offerings that might mean something more than entertainment.

“The Dutchman” and “The Owl Answers”, by Leroi Jones / Amiri Baraka & Adrienne Kennedy

These two plays are on stage right now at the Penumbra Theater, one of two African American theaters in Minneapolis/St. Paul.  Penumbra has been helmed by Lou Bellamy for years, who made a specialty of putting on August Wilson’s excellent play cycles.  Now his daughter has stepped in to help, and perhaps putting up “Dutchman” is a result of that. 

Things Happen on Subways
‘Dutchman’ is essentially a play about white people killing black people and getting away with it, written in 1963 - and still topical 53 years later.  The play happens on a subway train, perhaps in New Jersey, where a beautiful white woman seduces an intelligent black man.  This eventually enrages him, and his reaction ultimately serves her real purposes.  Then she finds another black man on the train and the process starts again.  The sexual politics of white women infatuated with black men – and the reverse - serves as a subterranean force in the play.    The acting by the white woman is powerfully obnoxious.  ‘Dutchman’ has rarely been staged in the Twin Cities, so go see it.

The second one-act play on the bill,   ‘The Owl Answers,’ is far more problematic.  It was written in 1965 about the dilemma of ‘mulattoes’ – mixed ethnicity people – who have mixed-ethnicity parents but are always treated as ‘black.’  It portrays the dilemma of a daughter who’s father was a rich white man in North Carolina, and who had sex with his black cook.  The daughter attempts to embrace her European heritage, only to be attacked at every turn, and apparently ends up dead in a Harlem hotel room.  The play is a confusing interior monologue writ large - of masks, repeated trance-like dialog, a giant bird cage and whirling set and a death bed.  I do not think it works well.

“Concussion,” directed by Peter Landesman, lead played by Will Smith

This is the film that made Will Smith sit out the Oscars. American NFL “football” (which is really not played with the feet) is the target here.  Smith does a great job of playing a straight-arrow Nigerian doctor who first discovers and identifies traumatic head injuries resulting from the beating ‘football’ players take in high school, college and NFL games.  This happens after he autopsies several Pittsburgh Steelers' players.  The film is hard on the stone-walling and corrupt NFL hierarchy.  The U.S. government, in the shape of the FBI, allies with the NFL by arresting his supportive boss.  The sports media demonizes him, while some doctors suck up to the League and fans cheer or are unaware of the brutality.  But then it includes paeans to ‘football’s’ athletic ‘beauty’ – attempting to mitigate a sport that in its physical consequences for players is not that much different from boxing.  

I’m glad I dropped out of ‘football’ in 7th grade.  Mothers, don’t let her babies grow up to be football players.  That is what the NFL is afraid of.

“The Working Dead,” staged at Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop, Minneapolis

Dudley Riggs is a comedy skit company.  If you can get by the over-loud music, the drink-pushing, the high price, the somewhat light legacy of Dudley Riggs, than this show will contain some nuggets for any drone who works in cubelandEssentially they took many aspects of working in an office – the smokers outside, the sick co-worker, e-mailing, fridge food, office romance, obnoxious office restructurings; ‘wellness' programs, the paperless office, the ‘happy’ HR person full of cliches, internet use, corporate jargon, software malfunctions, the threat of termination, lovable supervisors and one bad boss – and made a skit about each one.  Fingerhut, a failed company known to Minnesotans, even comes in for slams.

Unfortunately in Dudley Riggs' world, class conflict has been replaced by stupidity.  Workers are comical or stupid or lazy.  Only one arrogant boss – who has forced the whole office into a tiny space to save money, to enlarge his own office – appears.  We are truly the ‘working dead’ – great title – but unfortunately being a zombie for profit is just a hoot and not much else.  Yet paying attention to work itself – for the first time I think – exhibits an awareness by Dudley Riggs of what most do most of our days.  And that means something might be in the wind, and not just comedic hot air.

March 10, 2016

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