- by Edward Bond
review by Robert Avila in the San Francisco
Bay Guardian (April 2, 2003)
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- Rather than leading away from such complications, playwright Edward
Bond's take on American racism explores its totalitarian implications,
in which capitulation to a system based on violence, racism, and xenophobia
jeopardizes the liberty of all. Back in 1976, England's brilliant left-wing
dramatist and longtime enfant terrible penned a pair of excoriating one-act
comedies under the title A-A-America! If Bond's bicentennial gift to the
United States is only now being unwrapped in Crowded Fire's daring American
premiere, it hasn't lost any of its freshness.
- Grandma Faust, a parody of a Southern folktale, refashions Uncle Sam
(Michael Brusasco) as a barefoot bumpkin who conspires with the Devil,
in the gnarled shape of Sam's invalid granny (Linda Jones), to steal the
soul of a simple black man named Paul (Algin Ford), who naturally turns
out to be not as simple as they imagined. The broad humor here competes
intentionally (though not always successfully) with the violence of the
theme, brought out in the casually sadistic language as well as the fanciful
premise, drawn from the too-real trade in black bodies, that has two identical
Southern belles (Sara Betts and Michele Leavy) vying for the chance to
bake Paul into a pie.
- The slightly more realistic The Swing makes for a surer second act.
Paul returns as a servant to Mrs. Kroll (Jones), a widow performing leg
shows for the coarse company of a Western boomtown, and her bookish and
willful but emotionally fragile daughter Greta (Cassie Beck). Paul tells
us that we are being given the more or less factual account of a lynching
that took place in a public theater in Livermore, Kentucky, in 1911: "If
there's gonna be a lynchin', you'll sit more comfortable if you know exactly
what seat history's sat you in." But nothing prepares us for the subtle
relationships and ironies that lace the journey. The limber work of director
Christine Young and her fine cast make these details instantly familiar
- In the end a man sits tied to a swing, accused of rape and robbery.
Suddenly the play we are watching is the patriotic entertainment of a particular
day in 1911, in which the theater management invites us, the audience,
to open fire at the man in order of ticket price, until he's riddled with
more than a hundred bullets. In one deft gesture Bond offers a moment of
complicity in the collision (and collusion) of past and present. This is
lynching as spectacle, the theater of violence that consumed thousands
of lives in the Jim Crow era, the vast majority of them African American.
- Racism and outlaw justice are too much with us today to afford forgetting
the harrowing history of lynching in this country. But Bond's inspired
provocations do more than dredge up the past. There's a larger undercurrent
of violence, of moral and social chaos, from which no one ultimately escapes.
Far from a pedantic history lesson, Crowded Fire's smart and committed
production demands an accounting of social responsibility. "Art,"
Bond says, "always concerns itself with the cruelty of a particular
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