Sunday, October 3, 2010

No Place To Be Somebody by Charles Cordone (1970)

Summary:  Johnny Williams is a young black man who owns a bar in New York City in/around the late 1960s.  The people who come in and out of the bar have their own set of agendas and each character fulfills a very specific role/purpose.

Thoughts:  The summary above is probably the most insufficient I've written since starting this project.  There's no way to compactly summarize this play without a scene-by-scene plot description and an annotated character list.  Much like The Time of Your Life (1940), the dramatic action of this play is dependent on the actors who enter and exit the bar, but unlike ...Life, there is an enormous amount of action in this play.  The play makes a number of statements about race, ethnicity and gender in the way that it casts it's characters.  For example, the primary female characters (Dee, Evie) are whores, and the only other important female in the play is Mary Lou--a white civil rights activist who is ultimately used only as a pawn because her father is a judge and Johnny is trying to outsmart some Italian mobsters.

Most of the statements about equality and civil rights are relegated to Gabe, the poet of the group who is given long soliloquies in the form of poems that talk about black anger, white oppression and the relationship between whites and blacks in the 70s.  Gabe's statements are often eloquent, but sometimes seemed forced in a play that details the day-to-day activities of a bar.  At intervals throughout the play, a character will say something to the effect of, "Gabe!  Give us a poem now!" and the soliloquy/diatribe/important social message will begin.

Additionally, the subplot involving Johnny and the mobsters seems incredibly out of place.  With a few days distance, it almost feels like Cordone wrote a play about a bar and the characters who come through the doors, didn't think it was enough and needed to add another element of drama.  Though this play is unquestionably important (first black playwright and first off-Broadway play to win a Pulitzer), I found a surprising number of flaws.

1 comment:

  1. It was 1969 so it was timely. But soliloquies that take you out of the narrative seem a bad choice. Instead of that, demonstrate those ideas through the characters in the play. I mean, isn't that what they're there for?