The Blacks: A Clown Show was written in 1958 at the request of a black actor. But Jean Genet, a white, French novelist and playwright, wrote the drama, focusing on a troupe of black actors, who come together to perform a ritual that requires the corpse of a white woman. Originally written for an all-black cast, The Blacks offered a new voice to black theatre that heralded the blunt and confrontational tone of the Black Arts Theatre Movement.
An absurdist play, The Blacks breaks with regular conventions of theatre production. “The actors’ speech and movement are different from what most people are used to,” explains Marcus Dargan, a BMCC graduate and director of the production. “Communication is 80 percent about how you say things, not what you say,” continues Dargan. “It’s not just the words and action, it’s everything else that goes along with them.”
The Blacks will be presented by the New Afrikan Theatre Company at BMCC February 22-February 25. The actors are divided into two groups: the Negroes and the Court. The Negroes reenact the murder of the white woman for the entertainment of the Court (blacks wearing white masks). The court is then compelled to judge the Negroes for the crime.
“The audience is very much a part of shaping each performance,” says Dargan. “They are asked to wear white masks to signify their identity as a white audience.” The use of the masks, along with a set of other directions, are included in the playwright’s original note from 1958:
This play, written, I repeat, by a white man, is intended for a white audience, but if, which is highly unlikely, it is ever performed before a black audience, then a white person, male or female, should be invited every evening…But what if no white person is [present]? Then let white masks be distributed to the black spectators as they enter the theatre. And if the blacks refuse the masks, then let a dummy be used.
The insistence on “creating” a white audience is for effect. The play, after all, presents a violent assertion of black identity and anti-white virulence. In the New Afrikan Theatre Company’s presentation at BMCC, all the actors (both current students and recent graduates of BMCC) are black. The audience at BMCC is mixed, but all will be asked to wear the white masks for the full-effect of taking on “whiteness”, which is insisted on by Genet, the creator.
Although Jean Genet was not a black man, he was passionate about exploring the struggles of outcasts of various kinds against their oppressors. His literary work often reflected his outrage at injustices against humanity. Perhaps his sense of compassion grew out of his own sense of alienation: He was orphaned at an early age. It could also have been because Genet was a homosexual, spent time in prison and was persecuted for much of his writing.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006 2:00pm, 7:00pm
Thursday, February 23, 2006 7:00pm
Friday, February 24, 2006 7:00pm
Saturday, February 25, 2006 7:00pm
The Studio Theater at BMCC
199 Chambers Street
Room N213 (directly across from the gym)
Admission is free