I have decided for the month of September to read 30 plays in 30 days. It is my belief that, if possible, a play should be read in one sitting to get a better inherent sense of the dramatic arc. Each day, I will write a short post here about the play of the day.
The Taking of Miss Janie by Ed Bullins (pictured above)
I found this play in a collection I have of "Famous American Plays of the 1970s". It is not an easy play to read. The play begins with a white woman, Janie, in bed with her black friend named Monty. She is confronting him after he has just raped her. When this play opened in the 1970s, Bullins said described this scenario as a metaphor for race relations, but it is not an easy metaphor. The play won an Obie for Distinguished Playwriting, and also a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, but it is not a play I can imagine being produced easily in these times, though it was revived in 2006. In an interview with NPR (that you can find by clicking here) the director of the revival, Ms. Shauneille Perry, had this to say:
"It is a question of perception because I'd like to take note that the play is called “The Taking of Miss Janie.” And Mr. Bullins, himself, in various interviews, has said it was a friendly rape, quote/unquote. I'm not exactly sure what that means but I do know that in the play it's quite clear in the lines that Janie does not leave. She's not literally accosted and so on.
"In fact, she presents herself at the end. So, I think, Bullins was saying that Janie represents America, Monty represents black America and it was the black America in the taking of white America.I don't like to speak too much for the author but I think the word, rape, which I supposed is used for publicly purposes to get people in. But I think it's an overstatement of what actually happened and remembering that it's called “The Taking of Miss Janie.”
I don't know that I completely agree with this sentiment having read the play, nor do I think there is really such a thing as a "friendly rape". And unfortunately, metaphor or not, I found the device problematic to say the least. Which is somewhat unfortunate, as there is still much to be taken in by this play. Bullins is a fearless writer--- he has won many, many awards--- and has a great deal to say by inverting stereotypes. Much of this play is a fascinating portrait and rendition of the turbulent 1960s, with many issues that are still so sadly prevalent today.
My favorite line comes from Peggy, when talking, from the future, about the 1960s. She says:
"We all failed. Failed ourselves in that serious time known as the sixties. And by failing ourselves we failed in the test of the times. We had so much going on for us... so much potential..."
Ed Bullins has written many, many plays, won many awards and received many grants. He currently holds a distinguished Artist-In-Residence at Northeastern University, and was once the Minister of Culture for the Black Panthers. He is also considered one of the most prominent voices of the Black Arts Movement.