I declined two phone calls between the hours of 11PM and Midnight driving home from catching up with an old friend on the north side of town, we had just finished watching game 4 of the NBA finals. He has just moved back to Dallas after some years in New York and I’ve only recently moved back, less than a year. We drank in our old neighborhood, the realtor on the property we sat went to elementary school with us. These things are transitory, in a few years the properties will be sold, my friend will be in a new house, somewhere else in town, and I will not be here.
Earlier that evening I attended the inaugural play of Metamorphosis, Dutchman, by Amiri Baraka, directed by Tiana Johnson and Aaron Zilbermann. Staged in Arts Mission Oak Cliff’s the production puts the audience in a crowded New York City subway car going uptown. You are a passenger, you are witness, you are co defendant in a dialogue around race that Amiri Baraka has crafted as a timeless piece of contemporary theater. The poignancy of the events that unfold in Dutchman are particularly compelling with the recent deaths of two interventionists in a white supremacist tirade by Jeremy Joseph Christian in Portland, and the death of Richard Collins III on the University of Maryland campus. Clay, played by McClandon Giles, and Lula, played by Lindsay Ryan, move through the car with the energy and heat of those wheels on those tracks moving uptown into the night of Harlem. The action and direction of the play hold true to the words of the writer, reflecting binaries in race, gender, class. Public transportation plays the great equalizer as the dialogue dances from casual meeting, to invitation, to fantasy, to violence, and to death. Staged in Dallas, the train car could just as well be a bus from Pleasant Grove to Plano. The audience is immobile, the actors the vehicle for dreams twisted by society into lifelike forms, we see performance in Lula, and life in Clay, whiteness in performance and blackness in imitation, the liar of Lula next to the truths of Clay, curiosity in the eyes of Dutchman, intrigue in the questions of Clay and certainty in the insanity of Lula. The roles traverse the path that is cyclical, black death as the penultimate thing to peoples in passing, what we know of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin after that night, we know too well and are shown again and again. As McClendon is drug from the stage and Lindsay makes her wishes heard, where do we face when the world starts up again? What do we face when the world starts up again?