I cannot even begin to imagine the impact this had when it hit the stage in '64. I was shocked reading it now, over forty years later!
The play is set on a subway car in NY and consists of an entire relationship, beginning to end, of two strangers - a young black man and a slightly older white woman. What starts as an innocent flirtation quickly progresses to a violent encounter..
Lula enters the car and spies Clay. She is not shy about coming on to him. Hers is a cruel provocation and I couldn't help but wonder if Jones' divorce from his first wife had influenced this play at all. Lula says to Clay:
I lie a lot. [smiling] It helps me control the world.She certainly attempts to control Clay, publicly dancing and asking him to "rub bellies" with her. Clay has maintained his cool but Lula's harsh words become too much for him and he snaps:
Don't you tell me anything! If I'm a middle-class fake white man ... let me be. And let me be in the way I want. [Through his teeth] I'll rip your lousy breasts off! Let me be who I feel like being.I won't reveal what happens at the end because I hate when things are ruined for me, but I will say that Lula came on that train looking for trouble.
What I took away from this play is that history repeats itself. Race conflicts may not be quite so prevalent in 2010 but people are still judged and hurt for being "different." When Clay says, "Let me be who I feel like being," he could easily speaking for his generation. I could find a million people who would ask the same thing today. The best gift we can give others is our acceptance. We should all feel free to be true to ourselves.
I received this suggestion from a friend who runs a great organization here in NY called The Shakespeare Forum. It's a great, affordable place for actors with a passion for the Bard (or not) to get together and PLAY. Check it out - we're having a workshop tomorrow night from 8-10! I'll be there. Will you?
Here are the details:
Tomorrow's Play: The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin