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Race Relations 

Stepping back into the river of time, with two one-act plays about abolition

Wednesday, Mar 19 2003
Despite its title, Edward Bond's A-A-America! is hardly a bastion of U.S. patriotism. Produced by Crowded Fire Theater Company, this stateside premiere, composed of two one-acts penned by British playwright Bond, is an aggressive exploration of racism. Both plays take place during the years that immediately followed abolition, a gruesome chapter in our nation's history in which the brutal practice of lynching left thousands dead.

The first play, Grandma Faust, is a dark burlesque about a grandmother-devil who promises prosperity to a white man -- appropriately named Uncle Sam -- in exchange for the soul of Paul, a black man who is to be sold and made into "nigger foot pie." The Swing finds the same character, Paul, falsely accused of attacking whites in Kentucky, and facing a horrific fate.

The two pieces, first produced in London in 1976, are intense but not without humor, as Bond paints scathing caricatures of white folks who sell slaves as if they're pies at a bake sale, and who carry out deadly lynching ceremonies in the same fashion as they would neighborhood picnics. But Faust and Swing are also unnerving and inflammatory, which is why Christine Young was compelled to direct them. "There's a lot of unresolved business between blacks and whites in this country," says Young. "This country exists because of slavery, and we still haven't made reparations for it."

Young hopes that theater can open a dialogue about race in the United States. And while A-A-America! may sound bleak, the transcendent character of Paul finds a way to muddle through the muck -- and survive. In the production, he sings, "Wise man said a long time ago, no man step in the same river twice." Somehow that same river keeps popping up, and the footprints in it are neither new nor shallow.

About The Author

Karen Macklin


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