Suzan-Lori Parks: A Casebook

By Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.; Alycia Smith-Howard | Go to book overview

5
Language as Protagonist
in In the Blood

Len Berkman

Unlike their ‘modern’ European – and their increasingly global – theatrical kin, US playwrights (as distinct from even their magnificently mode-fusing, too often shrugged away, Canadian dramatist cousins) face an either/or approach to realism and style. While, for example, the ‘content’ and ‘form’ of a Samuel Beckett play meld such human concerns as ageing, memory loss, physical disability and poverty with such openly artistic tactics as wordplay, repetition, discontinuity, illogic, conspicuous pace shifts, metatheatrical self-awareness and comically disproportionate response, and are embraced accordingly in such fullness of mixtures by critics and audiences alike, ‘American’ writers for the stage routinely encounter and accommodate compartmentalization of foci that ideally would be entwined.

The rich diverse oeuvre of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Sam Shepard, not to mention the vibrant span of theatrical routes taken in the curtailed lifetime of Lorraine Hansberry – as with the restless explorations of the looming ‘Mt. Rushmore’ males with whom I group her, one has but to place Hansberry’s ‘realist’ A Raisin in the Sun alongside her strikingly ‘imagined’ Les Blancs to be exalted by her panoramic life/art vista – has satisfied public thirst for ‘authentic’, if also often unfamiliar, locale, for dangerous psycho-physical extremes, for hyper-vivid characters, character voices and relationship risk; but there has been no comparably widespread public thirst in the USA to view events and experiences on stage through a range of lenses, through the revelations afforded us by unconcealed ‘experimental’ styles and forms and especially the uses of language that reflect not only a playwright’s ear (for ‘how people speak’) but also that playwright’s ability to give the vocabulary and structure of language a bloodstream of their own as language strives to encompass the writer’s personal universe.

Within our dominant culture, there has been no widespread grasp of how language and situational assemblage – what Suzan-Lori Parks hails as a play’s architecture – capture or shape the very nature of thought processes, of emotion, comprehension and response.

In that architectural sense, as Parks’s plays manifest, no either/or can usefully exist: The ‘elements of style’ Parks movingly sustains in her ‘Red Letter Plays’, In the Blood and Fucking A – her Hester, La Negrita,

-61-

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