Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama

By Marc Maufort | Go to book overview

Of Angels and Transcendence:
An Analysis of Fences by August Wilson and Roosters by Milcha Sanchez-Scott

Harry J. Elam Jr.

Both August Wilson's 1986, Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Fences, and Milcha Sanchez-Scott Roosters, a critically acclaimed drama written that same year, conclude with an act of spiritual, social and physical transcendence. In Fences, Gabriel Maxson's atavistic shouts and dance, his seemingly futile blowing of his dilapidated horn empower him. He acts as the Archangel Gabriel and literally opens the gates of Heaven for his recently deceased brother, Troy, to enter. At the end of Roosters, Angela, the teenage daughter of Gallo and Juana Morales, revitalized in her religious devotion and spiritual faith, flies. Like an angel, she levitates over her family, bringing about an abrupt end to her family's immediate social crisis. The supernatural acts of these "angels" transcend, suspend and extend the realistic action of their respective plays. These are "meta-realistic" or "surrealistic" moments that are at once both culturally organized and culturally organizing.

I classify these moments as "culturally organized" because they reflect specific cultural belief systems and practices. Gabriel's apocalyptic opening of Heaven's gates is not an affirmation of Christian orthodoxy, but rather an action that links Gabriel, Troy, the entire Maxson family to their African roots. His actions visually codify Wilson's preeminent cultural project; to reestablish and re-affirm the "African-ness" in African-American experience. Similarly, Angela's levitation is indicative of a particularly Latino, culturally organized Catholicism. A syncretic faith that unites Christian mythology and Indian mysticism and, as a consequence, accepts the presence of miracles in everyday life. This syncretism has contributed to the development of the genre "magic realism" in Latino drama and literature. I term these transcendent acts "culturally organizing" for their ability to explode the conventions of western realism and to expand the traditional cultural limitations of American family drama. Evidenced by these two moments of angelic inspiration both Fences and Roosters engage in processes of reorganizing and reorienting current definitions of American domestic realism to include culturally diverse content and ritualistic experimentations in form.

My intention here is to examine comparatively Fences and Roosters by focusing on their use of realism and the final symbolic acts of transcendence

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