Description Beggared, or The Allegory of Whiteness

whitenessSome will disagree with my decision to include plays in this list.  Twelfth Night was included early on and that, being Shakespeare, sort of gets a free pass. (after all, Shakespeare is OBVIOUSLY literature, right?)  This is something else though – its a single play, you can’t buy it anywhere (I made my copy from the online version we had for class), and it doesn’t have any particular literary resonance.

That said, it affected me.  It intrigued me.  It demanded of me more than I was prepared to give to a play that came to me in such a fashion and because of that, my decision was sort of made for me.  Plays – those for Contemporary Theatre & Drama, the class I’m taking taught by Dr. Scott T Cummings – will count towards this ever-increasing list of “the books I read.”  There will be caveats here and there – if its a play in a collection, the whole collection must be read for it to count – but for all intents and purposes, a play is literature and thus a valid entry.

Mac Wellman’s Whiteness – originally called Description Beggared, or the Allegory of Whiteness – was one hell of a play to get started off with.  It was interesting, it was strange, and (as I mentioned) it was demanding.  The first time I read it, I did not like it.  I can’t say I disliked it – it was strange, yes, but I didn’t feel a gut “this sucks” reaction.  I just didn’t really like it.  Then, at Libby’s gentle urging and my own realization that in order to pass the quizzle I would need to read it again, I sat down and found myself thoroughly enjoying the play on the second go-round.

The idea of a strange family is one that has always appealed to me.  My family is pretty strange, so that might be party of it.  Families like Salinger’s Glass family, the Tenenbaums, even The Family of Ray Bradbury’s October Country – they appeal to me because they are so important and mundane (the “family”) but also so quirky and strange and NOT like the typical world expects a family.  The family – the Outermost Rings, I think – in Whiteness are a strange family as well.  Fraser, known as The Marplot, has that nickname for a reason.  Julia, the Eraser, accidentally erases people and things – her mother lost the ‘er’ and became Moth, but the ‘er’ got accidentally sneezed out onto Louisa, who everyone thinks is a dunce but actually isn’t.

There’s also a dwarf.  and a White Zebra.  and a Disputant and lots of thoughts on the nature of “bad things” and how they stay with us.

This is a play meant for the stage, perhaps.  To see the entire cast and stage in WHITE – just pure white – would be a stunning visual coup de theatre.  Steve thinks it would be even more stunning with a black cast and I have to agree.  I do think, though, that that might undercut the message of the play – which is arguable, of course.  We spent most of the last class trying to come to terms with what, if anything, is that message.  I believe that this play is a critique of sorts on the fading American White Privilege.  Set at the turn of the Millenium, it never makes the case explicit, but through comments like Fraser’s defense to the Disputant that he and the family have donated and been patrons of the arts and that that is good enough to absolve them – that’s the way that most rich white Americans behave these days.  They don’t realize that that’s not enough – being a truly good person isn’t about doing things to retroactively bleach your soul clean but instead its about just being good and nice and kind and helpful.

So yeah – a damn good way to start the year off talking…

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One comment

  1. Pingback: The Holy Ghost People | Raging Biblio-holism

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