Norman Mailer on 'The Blacks'

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

May 11, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 29

Mailer on 'The Blacks'

No one who believes in the greatness of certain plays would go to any one of our houses to enjoy them. They exist as thundering productions in the mind only. We know they might e done ("King Lear," for example, should be played by Ernest Hemingway), but one also knows that way lies nightmare, madness, and no hurricane's spout. Our theatre is cancer gulch. Anyone who has worked in it, felt the livid hate-twisted nerves of the actresses, the fag-ridden spirit of the actors, the gulping mannerless yaws of our directors, hysterical at resistance, ponderous at exposition, and always psychoanalytical, must admit that yes, at its best, our theatre is a rich ass and/or hole, at its worst, the heavens recoil.

By way of preface to some remarks on "The Blacks." If one is tempted to say it is a great play (with insidious, even evil veins of cowardice in its cruel bravery), one has to add immediately that such greatness exists as still another of those exquisite lonely productions off imagination's alley. The show, the literal show on the boards (and the set for this one is worth an essay of quiet criticism in itself), that tangible embodiment of "The Blacks" ended as good theatre, shocking as a rash, bughouse with anxiety to some, nervous fever-hot for all. (A lot of people left.) It is a good production, one of the doubtless best productions in New York this year, and yet it fails to find two-thirds of the play. It is a hot hothouse tense livid off-fag deep-purple voodoo mon Doo production, thick, jungle bush, not unjazzy, never cool, but at its worst, and Gene Frankel's touch is not always directed to the fine, the gloomy accolade one must offer is that "The Blacks" is three times as good a production as that finking of the pieces and parts one saw last year in "The Balcony." Frankel does an honest job, he clarifies the play - at a cost, but he does make it easier to see the play than to read it - he enriches the production upon occasions. The rich farty arts, that only grace our theatre can claim, are used with good force. The savory in Genet (that outer-Williams, the ta-ta Tennessee, cry not that the French write it better than thee) is laid on rich and that is probably right. What but a funky style could handle a murder by fornication of a white woman who is really a black vicar in a wig, dig, who turns around and comes out not to be killed at all, because Genet likes vastly to put Pirandello in a pretzel. This metamorphosis of forms, this fall into death by reverses brings an arbitrary climax to the play (since it comes just before the producer's questionable if artistic decision to have an intermission) and it is, if one is to talk like a theatre bore, one of the best 10 minutes spent in the pit since . . . So forth. It's very good. Frankel surprised me for 10 minutes. The actors too. As recommendations go, this play is Highly Recommended. Take your family, take the kids, take the hoodlums on the corner. Take your gun...

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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