Sunday, February 17, 2008

I saw a great Broadway play last weekend: Passing Strange

Passing Strange is a coming of age story, following a young man on a quest for something called “the real.” The journey carries him across Europe as he puts emotional and physical distance between his roots as a middle –class African-American youth in Los Angeles. I really enjoyed this show. It was fun, creative, and, unlike so many musicals on Broadway, actually had some substance behind it.

The show’s primary marketing image is a silhouette of the narrator, Stew, and recalls B.B. King to me. I thought this would be a blues show. But the cast (six actors, a band of four, and Stew himself) infused the show with a vibrant energy--a real pleasure to watch. By the end of Act I, I was convinced Passing Strange had the artistic strength to capture audiences looking for the next RENT.

The second act is also strong. Yet towards the end, the vivid and rich tapestry brought forth by the supporting characters falls away, leaving in its wake something more introspective. This worked, driving the core themes of self-discovery to the fore, but I found myself yearning for something slightly different. It’s as if Passing Strange “passed” on the opportunity to become a complete ensemble piece. But that’s okay, the work still resonates, and I wish it a successful run.
And that’s my two cents.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Some thoughts on history, race, and what's next...

I am watching Henry Louis Gates’ African American Lives II on channel Thirteen right now. Professor Gates is mining our nation’s history, focusing on African-American descendants of slaves, and the stories of their ancestors. It’s a very engaging piece of work, and I find myself swept up in Gates’ depiction of our shared cultural heritage.

When I watch something like African-American Lives, I am quite proud and interested in that history, in those people. My own people I would say. And I don’t want to forget these stories. At the same time, I realize that this tragic American history, the long tale of how and why people of African descent came to be Americans, necessarily highlights the failings of this nation. It underscores our historical racist legacy. And I want to be beyond that. I don’t want to be mad at anyone. No one alive today is responsible for what their ancestors did or did not do.

So my question is this, how do we negotiate race in a healthy, constructive manner today? How do we understand the history of diversity in this nation without reinforcing the types of behaviors and misunderstandings that make up racism in all of its forms? How do we put race in its place wihtout e-racing it?