The Dutchman by the late Amiri Baraka which he considered to be, “taking place …flying in the underbelly of the city” was directed by award winning director Woodie King Jr. at the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival founded by Ms. Toni Henson. The production was produced by Micah 6-8 Media. It was a really awesome experience witnessing Mr. King’s genius once again. His respect for and appreciation of his friend Baraka’s and his work brought a special touch and interpretation to the stage for us at this fairly new festival. King’s use of digital multimedia and technical theatre and his actor’s timing, colour, poise and articulation of this fast-paced and hard-hitting spectacle unfolding into underground drama –was really something to see.
It was “timely” and in league with other theatre hubs across the nation but a very ambitious play choice and production for the three year old community-based festival.
Amiri Baraka’s work is considered “revolutionary theatre”. It is academic and eclectic and can require solid community interest to appreciate it as it is a epiphany-driven and a very academic platform for discussion(s)…We may need workshops next time around. 🙂
This was a work and a director that should have had all echelons of the arts communities of Atlanta out for theatre and tribute to Baraka staged by King for a provocative discourse. I hope that the new currency of the festival having had the brilliance of this author/playwright/activist and icon director Woody King fully illustrated will move more people locally to enjoy it next year. The Dutchman production was like ‘shock and awe’ and it entertained and amazed the audience for the historic theatre “night-out” and we will look forward to hear and see about other performance reviews.
The play… with its commemorative value engaged the audience which included Broadway producers, Black Theatre Network icon ; other college groups, professors, patrons from at least 20 U.S. cities; theatre practitioners, students, educators, other festival facilitators and community members largely involved with the annual event.
The technical presentation engaged us with digital media carrying us from royal visitations in diverse parts of Africa to trans-Atlantic transition; slave ship to NYC underground transit!
New federal Theatre’s, Woody King Jr. the American Theatre Hall of Fame recognized director brought-to-life in rhythm, colour and candor a difficult play with many [moving parts] in muse, word, action and intention. Amiri staged Dutchman, the Obie Award winning production in 1964. It is a complex platform-for-dialog! It’s what we call in education a “teachable moment”! The threads of the playwright’s ideas in the English Language Arts included calling out scholasticism and rationalism about the black man’s mental plight and the fairness of his captivities since the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Amiri called out all of the “era politics” of how black men have been “morphed” right to the present time in personae and “state of nature”.
Baraka the writer/artist was apparently “ticked as hell” during this period as he was apparently truly prolific while experiencing the challenges of a divorce from a Jewish woman. The playwright engaged in the Dutchman, the black man’s dilemmas on every psychological polemic perhaps known to him as a human being –as transformed property — as he or his lead character Clay (20-something) — “tries/tried to be normal”.
The King directed play features Lula as a younger black woman in white mask clad in a skin tight (red, white and blue) dress instead of a 30-ish white woman in just a skimpy dress wearing sunglasses. Clay, seemingly a conservative black man dressed in jacket shirt and tie coordinated in pastel colors that assimilate anywhere. The two characters engage a sorted drama on a NYC subway car. Clay is undressed by Lula emotionally and psychologically by her sexiness, guile and uncanny instruction as a temptress with an agenda to derail him, seduce him and eliminate him.
The artists Ryan Jillian Kilpatrick (Lula) and Michael Alcide (Clay) have tremendous range and capacities. Ryan’s role and ‘muse’ as Lula was instantly ready and gymnastic and started intrigue. She is first flirting with Michael from the outside of a subway car and then inside making the empty car with him unfolding full burlesque…with a show just for him and every red blooded, woman-loving person in the audience! Yup, she did! I felt something about that girl myself.
Ryan is simply an acting genius with tremendous mind/body control. She is one to watch in the near future — a very rare talent. She was perfect for the part. Woodie King’s casting of her produced a linguist, a temptress; a calm, confident, calculating dancer and communicator who holds your mind and draws your eyes with a gifted and rare brilliance!
Michael also showed director King’s genius of selecting acting “material” and “winding it up” to do the job of complex theatre. Michael starts out with both acting and actions very slow. He is conservative clothed in pastels, poised, and parochial.
He is obviously confused “number one” that he is he is the ‘object’ of Lula’s attention, seduction, and perversions. Michael is transparent to the audience. He shows that he doesn’t know if he is embarked on an odyssey, opportunity or “love at first sight” even-if-the-girl-be-really —–really… kinky.
Michael goes from poised, slow, suburban and even pathetic to the “open personae” of someone who has been stripped of normalcy and called out to rage. Dude…actually, played two parts: he was first a Black Andy Griffith and later a raging psychotic gansta’ and obviously a candidate acting his portrayal of an [inmate] convicted and buried again… from the television series “OZ”.
Baraka the playwright was obviously lucid with the capacity of articulating the calculated games of being a man. He was versed with the ebb and flow of a man who was and is composite of a chattel property and apparently captive of and in America trying to discover if he is in reach of re-creation or part of gymnastic-recrea-tion by someone who really seems to know him.
Baraka is angry and wants to dialog on every scholastic, emotional and physical level that there is to engage discussions. He is calling our scholastic… De Anima for black men, white men, temptress’ and our relations to love and hate itself.
I know that this is somewhat “enuf” but since we are giving tribute to him in light of his recent death let’s continue. Baraka is obviously angry and gives voice to chattel slavery; chattel-led personae; fake machismo relationships with barbed wire color-line restrictions; and limited durations of opportunities to get-over or overcome contorted profiles because the black man is perhaps always “called out of normalcy again and again”.
Clay is called out for fun and fem-fatal contempt; Clay is called out to be challenged and to be a spectacle; Called out to stage what love, lusting emotions are left in him; Called out to see what dreams, fantasies, self-reflections, and restrictions are intact and left to stroke. Clay is called out like a ‘wild-kingdom lure and live narration’ and we in the audience see what self-determination, manhood, brilliance and animal is left in Clay and also how it is measured, coddled, captivated and broken.
Baraka’s work seems like primordial voices from the inside of Eden, the slave ship, the street car, and even “King Kong’s” cage. I don’t think personally he is engaging the white woman alone. I think he is asking us (as Woodie depicted in her dress) to engage a reflective practice of our love and lust of America herself. She is and has always been young bold and sexy to the world and we have always been her patriot and patronizing fan. She is a young and capable nation-state that makes [her] very powerful and there is enduring love there and it does not matter like biblical metaphor’s do, what we think about her control. We love her and have earned the right to love her and to be loved. We can’t seem to live with her or without her. We are in love, dependence and lust. We are west of Eden. We are eating proverbial apples discarded like us. We are perhaps from his mind at the time destined primates and not noble men murdered again and again — while just chilling out and minding our own business.
He seems to ask in this play about his place, love-placement, lust- station-stop and his home in the suburbs or a top-flight tenement? Where is his suitor and normalcy? The play is about a lie. The play is about the truth! The play is violent in its posture. It deals with generational posturing of the black man in systemic engagement. He is dressed will and poised and he is still being “duped” by Lula archetypes that perhaps reach to creation myths. The play Dutchman has always had interesting correlation’s to the German music icon, Richard Wagner’s famous work, “Flying Dutchman” about the legendary Dutchman Man of War Slave Ship that never, ever… finds port.
Dutchman by Amiri Baraka is considered a tool of a political satirist. The dialog and drama is not pretty or petty and considered by the public to be more dangerous than worthy of real art/humanity discussions no matter how evolved we are beyond the 20th century when it was written.
We are left to wonder what the literate public thinks? Is it scandalous for a brother to have gone so far a-field speaking about so much pain, contempt, love, polemic-range and anger?
Is it scandalous for black theatre to risk-take and to celebrate playwrights who are not just entertaining today when we don’t reinvest liberally to further our art forms?
Is it scandalous that there is ceaseless curiosity, attention and economy from all sectors of our society forever paid to black women and white men staged as [America]? The black woman is a brilliant, temptress-like and the man…who an elite victim with a powerful, and dangerous past and present capacity. The white man and black woman are institutional partners and their strata amaze us to no end. They are engaged in one another and in their corporate building, government, nation-building, lust, secrets and shock and awe love-live.
We are transformed in the authenticity of it all. We are willing captives again and again each week. We enjoy the sophistication of the scandals. We yearn for their drama. They have the highest approval ratings…today. It’s cool to talk about anything from strata to ambitions of 21st century women and 21st century white men. The pen of a “play-maker” and screenwriter and sister are even cool… whether they are annoyed, angry, murderous or seductive. Go figure (?).
Comment from Mr. King
Oct 16th, 7:08pm
Woodie King here.
A great big thank you! You are definitely on the case for black theatre. I know as brilliant as you are you could be doing so many other things.
I loved your deep, deep review of DUTCHMAN. You took me to places I had to re-examine. No one else ever mentioned my use of Wagner’s THE FLYING DUTCHMAN.
Thanks to Emory University…
The 27,233 Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Voyage Records Are Available Thanks to Emory University, the National Endowment for the Humanities and W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database at: http://www.slavevoyages.org/tast/index.faces