Thursday, April 1, 2021

For the Love of Opera and RBG

 

Through all the activities the Dresser has been immersed in she hasn’t let go of “For the Love of Opera: Celebrating RBG’s 88th Birthday” presented March 15, 2021. The moving tribute paid to Ruth Bader Ginsburg was presented by Opera Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History (a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate), and the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience. The hour and 16 minute program includes favorite arias of RBG, performed by outstanding young talent, and people who knew her or who had observed her attending opera in such places as Glimmerglass in New York state or Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. The video of the program can be seen at https://www.nmajh.org/events/for-the-love-of-opera/.

 

The program begins with tenor Joshua Blue singing “Una furtive lagrima” from L’eslisir d’amore by Donizetti. As the surtitles flash this “furtive tear welled up in her eye” and the Dresser could picture and viscerally feel the emotion that RBG felt in hearing this song being sung but such an artful singer like Joshua Blue. The Dresser had seen the Chief Justice at the Kennedy Center on many occasions.

 

Soprano Ashley Marie Roilard sings the second aria: “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi by Puccini. The sweetness of Roilard’s singing is remarkable for ability to relax the listener even as one strains with yearning that the performance does not stop too soon.

 


All of the musical presentations are like this. Between the arias we hear from RBG’s adult children, singers like baritone Norman Garret, opera director Francesco Zambello. The stories reveal so many intimate moments between RBG and these important people who made her long life worth living. Threaded through the talk is how justice and opera were interwoven in the Chief Justice’s life.

 

Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this thoughtful and moving program.

 

 

 


 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Griffiths & Hirshfield: The Introverts with Big Audience

 

On January 31, 2021, the Dresser heard poets Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Jane Hirschfield who gave Zoom readings sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Center. Jennifer Franklin, the moderator, reported an audience of 300.

 


Griffiths read from Seeing the Body (W. W. Norton, 2020), a collection that, among other topics, charts and celebrates the poet’s late mother with passionate and deeply felt imagery. One can hear this immediately in the opening poem, the title poem, “See the Body”—“I remember/her voice like a horn I never want/to pull out of my heart,” “I gather every mouth/that ever sang my mother’s blues,” “she talked back hard at god.” While this language is of this world, Griffiths moves this poem to a higher plane, the eternal: “How does the elegy believe me?/Together, we crossed the sky./There was a gate & we walked through/the world like that.”

 

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is an artist of many outlets. Seeing the Body displays both her lyrical poems and her black-and-white photographs. She is author of five poetry collections.

 

Hirschfield read from Ledger (Knopf, 2020), a socially, ecologically, and politically tuned in collection of poem reflecting on justice, peace, and, literally, the fate of the world. The poet has a disarming way of starting with the physical world and moving to another level of human existence. Her opening poem of Ledger entitled “The Bowl,” begins “If meat is put into the bowl, meat is eaten.” On the immediate level, the statement seems purely obvious and logical, particularly if the one being fed is at the mercy of a host. But wait, what if this is a begging bowl and the beggar is vegetarian? Then suddenly the audience has moved into some other realm. Is it the politics of healthy eating, animal rights, social justice where one person is subjugated by another? This is a bowl like a day that contains “Wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness” and this bowl cannot be thrown way or broken. Moreover “It is calm, uneclipsable, rindless,/and, big though it seems, fits exactly in two hands.” If Hirschfield only presented this poem, the audience would be fed for a life time, except everything she read was like this.


Jane Hirschfield, a Princeton University graduate of the first class including women,  received lay ordination in Soto Zen (San Francisco Zen Center). She is author of nine collections of poetry.

 

The Dresser recommends hearing the reading and the Q&A that answers questions on their writing processes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSQgX794X1E

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Pop Operas Out of the Little Boxes

 

Folkish and rap-ish best describe Episode 4The Bolts of Fortune from the four-part Tales from a Safe Distance, a mini opera showcase produced by the Decameron Opera Coalition.

 

For those readers who have not partaken yet of this vibrant, virtual—but not live—opera showcase, the Decameron Opera Coalition, a partnership of nine small opera companies spread across the United States premiered in the month of October tiny operas running from 9 to 15 minutes long. The libretti are inspired from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron in a contemporary update. The connecting opera is an extended piece operating across the four episodes called The Happy Hour by composer Peter Hilliard and librettist Matt Boresi. The last installment of The Happy Hour comes across warmly and memorably. Internationally known bass-baritone Lucas Pisaroni leaves the Dresser wanting much more.

 

On October 30, 2020, the Dresser saw premieres of Sourdough: Rise Up by composer Gilda Lyons with illustrator Chris Lyons and Corsair with music and words by K. F. Jacques.

 


Sourdough: Rise Up produced by Resonance Works of Pittsburgh, PA features a story about creative people caught in isolation in the time we are living through (pandemic). One of them turns to making bread. While we hear three singers, we never see them. Instead what we see are drawings. Overall the story is uplifting and the music is easy listening in much the same way one might experience music theater.

 


 Corsair produced by Chicago Fringe Opera of Chicago, IL is a lusciously sprawling story of a corsair—pirate—trying to make his fortune but is stymied by bad luck. The music is a mix of hip hop, rap, and opera. The scenic shots of water and city landscape are beautiful and engaging. Some animation colors the scenic background. Composer-librettist K. F. Jacques is also the main character with a resonant baritone voice. Soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart-Thomas makes a brief and impressive appearance as a kind of Erda (mother nature) figure.

 

Tickets are priced ridiculous low at $15 for all four segments of this opera. Episodes 1 through 4 and their talkbacks remain available to be viewed at any time through December 31, 2020.


 

As is The Dresser’s practice, she give the last words to a contemporary poet. In “There is nothing terrible here to step out from under,” Nils Michals begins his full-length collection of “gem boxes.” The world of Covid-19 has put most of us into the little boxes of the Zoom platform which is what “The Happy Hour” mini opera both celebrates and laments. At least Zoom participants can see and tell each other Tales from a Safe Distance. Michals’ prose poem has the same message as “Sourdough: Rise Up” and “Corsair” and that is, we must recognize and be grateful for what we have and then rise above what has changed and keeps us from our paths to fortunes.

 

 

There is nothing terrible here to step out from under. No one says it is not a box, snug in the palm, and of a color and material of your choosing. You must open it. It requires an impossibly tiny key which (surprise) is hanging deep inside your left ear, as keys are wont to do, on a ring of stirrup bone. Remember: there is no terrible thing. The lock’s click will be satisfying in both feel and sound. No terrible thing, just a silvery darkness. Whatever near persons are telling you is probably true. Whatever’s in your pocket—chapstick, receipt for said chapstick, keys that no longer matter—you can remove and gift wholeheartedly to those persons near or far, familiar or strange. Say yes, here is my car. Here is my house. This is for the lips. Remember: the dark is silver-leafed, like a well catching the surface light in stages down. Don’t you see? No? Because once inside it is not (surprise, again) like a well. Once inside you must drift down. You must let yourself sail down into the glinty black, which is deep and wide. Of things that are deep and wide, this is deeper, wider, immeasurably so, and in time you will feel it as such, the change in tone, the drifting away of any undermost floor. It is a terrible, terrible thing, this dropping into nothingness. And it is not like a well at all.

 

by Nils Michals

from Gem Box


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Operas of Broken Eros

Dark and brooding best describes Episode 3: So Noble a Heart from the four-part Tales from a Safe Distance, a mini opera showcase produced by the Decameron Opera Coalition.

 

For those readers who have not partaken yet of this vibrant, virtual—but not live—opera showcase, the Decameron Opera Coalition, a partnership of nine small opera companies spread across the United States are premiering in the month of October tiny operas running from 9 to 15 minutes long. The libretti are inspired from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron in a contemporary update. The connecting opera is an extended piece called The Happy Hour by composer Peter Hilliard and librettist Matt Boresi.

 

On October 23, 2020, the Dresser partook of the premieres of Orsa Ibernata by composer Elizabeth Blood and librettist Danny Brylow, Seven Spells with music and words by Donia Jarrar, and The Sky Where You Are by composer Maria Thompson Corley and librettist Jenny O’Connell.

 


From the moment composer-soprano Elizabeth Blood begins intoning “brambles and weeds” with a trilled R, the listeners know they have entered sacred space set back in time to the medieval period. Orsa Ibernata produced by Milwaukee Opera Theater of Milwaukee, WI, features Danny Brylow’s libretto culled from two Decameron stories that settle on an unfaithful partner who is served up the lover’s heart and because of this, she or he commits suicide. The title of this work translates as “Hibernating Bear.” The Dresser is clueless how the title relates to the story. Additionally, there are two characters in this work and both parts are sung by Elizabeth Blood, though the Dresser is unsure about the identities of these characters. Nonetheless, Orsa Ibernata is The Dresser’s favorite opera of these three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Seven Spells produced by Opera in the Heights of  Houston, TX involves a woman (mezzo-soprano Kaarin Cecilia Phelps)  who seems to be preparing for her wedding but is notified by cell phone that she has been jilted. Maria Thompson Corley’s music is accented by rolling arpeggios that tend to soothe rather than agitate. This makes for lamentation rather than deep despair, which the Dresser thinks muddles the story.


 

The Sky Where You Are seems to be the one opera so far not particularly inspired by a story from Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Produced by An Opera Theater of Minneapolis, MN, this work comes with a socio-political message about domestic abuse and how to deal with this heart-rending problem. The music scores at a high pitch given the anxiety of the abused woman Reyna (soprano Katherine Henly). The situation of the story is that Reyna calls her friend Jo (mezzo-soprano Anna Hashizume) for solace and advice while a man’s voice (baritone Justin Anthony Spenner) addressed to Reyna is heard but never seen.

 


Tickets are priced ridiculous low at $15 for all four segments of this opera. At this date, Episodes 1 through 3 and their talkbacks are available to be viewed at any time. The debut of the last segment airs as follows:

 

October 30, 2020 Episode 4: The Bolts of Fortune

  • “Sourdough: Rise Up” (Resonance Works | Pittsburgh, PA)
  • “Corsair” (Chicago Fringe Opera | Chicago, IL)
  • “The Happy Hour” (Conclusion)

As is The Dresser’s practice, she give the last words to a contemporary poet. In “Breaking Up with Eros,” Annie Kim details the difficulty of breaking off a love relationship, something that the three mini operas of Tales from a Safe Distance, Episode 3: So Noble a Heart have extreme trouble with.

 

 

BREAKING UP WITH EROS

—ending with a line by Frank Bidart


This morning, for example, I miss
your heat: how you flare my skin

into a sun, whipping my cold
dead planets into orbit. To slip

beyond the body’s gate, glide
through its chain-link fence. 

I need to find something beyond
just the physical—I’ve had enough from

Column A—proof you’re more Apollo,
less Saturn Devouring His Son.

Mostly I want to be done with you.
Take a match to my fingers, grip

the shiny toilet with both hands, heave—.
Then it’s night again. I’m out,

walking back after dinner, the air soft 
as chalk on heavy paper, my pores

are open, ears open, I feel the bricks
of the courthouse crumbling, smell the ivy

crawling across them, bittersweet—
it’s you I want again, your monstrous

light knocking my stained-glass window, 
black ink of you raining swift down

parched map of me, blurring all my capitals.
That, at least, was irreparable.

 

by Annie Kim

from Eros, Unbroken


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Operas asking for…love

  


Comically bawdy describes Episode 2: Prompted by Appetite from the four-part Tales from a Safe Distance, a mini opera showcase produced by the Decameron Opera Coalition.

 

For those readers who have not partaken yet of this vibrant, virtual—but not live—opera showcase, the Decameron Opera Coalition, a partnership of nine small opera companies spread across the United States are premiering in the month of October tiny operas running from 9 to 15 minutes long. The libretti are drawn from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron in a contemporary update. The connecting opera is an extended piece called The Happy Hour by composer Peter Hilliard and librettist Matt Boresi.

 

On October 16, 2020, the Dresser enjoyed the premieres of Dinner 4 3 by composer Michael Ching and librettist Deborah Brevoort and The Roost by composer Marc Migó and librettist John de los Santos.


 

Dinner 4 3 produced by Fargo-Moorhead Opera of Fargo, North Dakota, features the story of a May-December couple who are equally unsatisfied with their partner’s sexual interaction, so they each resort to online dating with unexpected results. The title of this opera gives a clear hint for what comes about in this story. Michael Ching’s opening music has an expectant lilt accentuated by a rising stroke from the violin and a comic base answer from the bassoon. The ensuing music is sweet (when the husband tells the trophy wife he is traveling for business), sensuous (the wife sings to a snappy tango), and fluid (even the recitative moves along the narrative with interest). Mezzo-soprano Kate Jackman gives a standout performance as the wife.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Roost produced by UrbanArias of Washington, DC concerns a pregnant couple who take up residence in the spacious house of the wife’s parents (who are at their beach house) only to discover that the air-conditioning is on the fritz. What makes this story particularly comic is that the husband is the partner who is most bothered by the heat and it’s the pregnant wife who wants sex. Additionally, we learn via an Internet call that Grandma-to-be doesn’t share the political beliefs of the expectant couple. Marc Migó’s music is appropriately edgy and produced only by piano and clarinet. The Dresser’s favorite musical number is sung by the anti-Democratic matriarch. Her music has a folk music sensibility. The scenery and video film (some of it photographed by drone) steal the show.  


 

 

Tickets are priced ridiculous low at $15 for all four segments of this opera. At this date, Episodes 1 and 2 and their talkbacks are what is available. The debut of other segments airs as follows:

 

 

October 23, 2020 Episode 3: So Noble a Heart

  • “Orsa Ibernata” (Milwaukee Opera Theater | Milwaukee, WI)
  • “Seven Spells” (Opera in the Heights | Houston, TX)
  • “The Sky Where You Are” (An Opera Theater | Minneapolis, MN)

October 30, 2020 Episode 4: The Bolts of Fortune

  • “Sourdough: Rise Up” (Resonance Works | Pittsburgh, PA)
  • “Corsair” (Chicago Fringe Opera | Chicago, IL)
  • “The Happy Hour” (Conclusion)

As is The Dresser’s practice, she give the last words to a contemporary poet. Grace Cavalieri always has a lot to say about love and its complications. Asking for love as both Diner 4 3 and The Roost do causes undue stress. In this time of national strife, we all need more love and more belly laughs.

 

THIS POEM IS ASKING FOR YOUR LOVE

 

This poem is not usually like this

I don’t know what came over it

It’s mostly violet under the sun

with a large yellow parasol and a pond

with a center that never freezes

I swear I had no idea

I’m so used to trees of hearts and

cherries within its branches

I can’t imagine

what woke this poem up

with a truth I never wanted

It called the tower window and said

I was alone

That in itself is a morbid lie

I have long shadows in Autumn and clouds

anytime there is a sky

In fact everything was going so well until

this poem wanted to undress me

and bring back my love

and hold me close and rub

my forehead when I had a fever

It had no idea what trouble could come

from this so I wrote it

then I ran from it

now I can erase it

to show I never needed it after all

because don’t you know, Poem,

if you have to ask for something

it’s not a gift.

 

by Grace Cavalieri

from What the Psychic Said

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Tiny Operas That Make You Want More

 


 

On October 9, 2020, DecameronOpera Coalition, a partnership of nine small opera companies, debuted part I of Tales from a Safe Distance, the first video segment of what the Dresser believes to be opera for everyone. The music is accessibly tonal. The stories speaks to our contemporary situations. The singers are first rate professionals. The super imposed scenery and special effects tickle the imagination. The Dresser suggests that the strategy used by these opera companies is an update on Puccini who appealed to a broad audience and still commands big audiences.

During “Episode I: Both Gladsome and Grievous,” three tiny stories—“The Happy Hour,” “Everything Comes to a Head,” and “The Late Walk,” inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, aired musically in a time frame ranging from nine to thirteen minutes. The singers were geographically dispersed but often singing together.

 

The touchstone opera “The Happy Hour” starts with Peter Hilliard’s soothing piano and mellow horn as people in their various abodes pour drinks for themselves. Luca Pisaroni, Italian bass-baritone, mentions it is a notte fonda (late night) for him. In nine minutes, we learn this is a group of singers, meeting on Zoom to lament their isolation. “Here we are in our boxes. Stuck.” They vow to meet in person, “when the lockdown is over, if I’m not six feet below clover.” Matt Boresi’s libretto is snappy and fun with it’s easy poetry. The story turns when Luca suggests they tell stories to entertain each other.

 


 

“Everything Comes to a Head” is American baritone Jorell William’s tale to tell but he as Basil is also the head in the story, which is deliciously awful. His lover’s roommates have chopped him up because he has annoyed them in their kitchen. His lover Rosemary (Marjorie Maltais) hides Basil’s head in her potted herb, which is what? Yes, of course, basil which is now what the roommates want for the pasta they are cooking. The energetic music is by Rachel J. Peters. The clever libretto is by Margi Preus and Jean Sramek. Christina Baldwin is the able director and the fabulous superimposed sets are by Ann Gumpper. The producing opera company with hats off to them is Lyric Opera of the North, Duluth, MN.

 

“The Late Walk” by Bare Opera of New York was written by composer Jasmine Barnes with libretto by Nikolaus Hochstein Cox. It is a ghost story. The special effects with bats flying by is a perfect lead in to the Halloween season.

 

Tickets are priced ridiculous low at $15 for all four segments of this opera. At this date, Episode 1 and it’s talkback is what is available. The debut of the other segments airs as follows:

 

October 16, 2020 Episode 2: Prompted by Appetite

  • “Dinner 4 3” (Fargo-Moorhead Opera | Fargo, ND)
  • “The Roost” (UrbanArias | Washington, DC)

 

October 23, 2020 Episode 3: So Noble a Heart

  • “Orsa Ibernata” (Milwaukee Opera Theater | Milwaukee, WI)
  • “Seven Spells” (Opera in the Heights | Houston, TX)
  • “The Sky Where You Are” (An Opera Theater | Minneapolis, MN)

October 30, 2020 Episode 4: The Bolts of Fortune

  • “Sourdough: Rise Up” (Resonance Works | Pittsburgh, PA)
  • “Corsair” (Chicago Fringe Opera | Chicago, IL)
  • “The Happy Hour” (Conclusion)

During this time of national turmoil and uncertainty, the Dresser suggests we all need nurturing and time away from what is stressing us. Like that potato chip that poet Elaine Magarrell has become in her poem “You Are What You Eat,” the Dresser bets that once you see what the Decameron Opera Coalition is holding out, you will want more.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

 

When she was a child

Mother was mashed

brains and poultry tails,

the throwaway parts

no one else wanted.

She grew up to be a secret

chocolate bar in the kitchen

drawer. When he married

Father was lamb

with blood at the bone

but toward the end

he was coddled egg.

When we met, my husband

was Peking Duck.

I was Greek olives, dark

and glistening near

the aperitif. Now he is

water and scotch

and I am one potato chip.

 

by Elaine Magarrell

from The Madness of Chefs

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Entering the New World of Distributed Virtual Theater

 

For this post, the Dresser has reached back to a 2017 post [no longer online] which analyzed Branden Jacobs-Jenkins surreal play “An Octoroon” as a way to set up a forthcoming feature on Scene4 Magazine about virtual theater on the Internet.

 

On September 19, 2020, the Dresser attended a socially distanced performance—the cast was geographically separated—via the platform On the Stage Streaming of Jacobs-Jenkins’ companion play Appropriate as interestingly produced by New Surry Theatre, which heretofore was simply a small regional theater located in Blue Hill, Maine.

 

 

While the distributed virtual production suffers occasional frozen transmissions (as all Internet platforms do at this time), the play, which is about the gathering of a White family after the death of the patriarch at the ancestral plantation where the father had been living, comes across reasonably well. There are two more performances September 25 and 26. Be forewarned—this play runs three hours with two intermissions. The first intermission looks like a credit run (cast bios)

which my remote “seatmate” thought was the end of the play. Nonetheless, the production is worth seeing and has some unusual things going on, like using three actors to play one character who is seen running through the distributed set.


 

An Octoroon and Appropriate both premiered Off-Broadway in 2014 and both were awarded 2014 Obie Awards. If you are unfamiliar with the playwright, be aware that Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, is an African American, who has written an award-winning play about racism with a totally White cast.

 

Here is the review of An Octoroon:

 

An Octoroon—[Box] Meets <Diamond>

 

Breaking the Fourth Wall, play within a play, actors playing dual roles, contemporary and antiquated timeframes as one reality, and a surreal character are all elements of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins remarkable An Octoroon, a play about race in America. Jacobs-Jenkins bases his contemporary speaking play on the 1859 melodrama entitled The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault.

 

The Dresser, who saw the July 30, 2017 performance of the Wooly Mammoth production, has seen plenty of theater where the actors infiltrate the audience, maybe embarrass one or two innocent bone-fide audience members and then go back to the traditional play plan where the players interact with one another. Octoroon’s breach of the Fourth Wall is different. The character BJJ who talks to the audience first is the stand-in for contemporary playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. BJJ, played with exceptional plasticity by Jon Hudson Odom, appears on stage wearing nothing by his briefs. 

 

 

He first interacts with an audience member whose cell phone rings (is this an audience plant? The Dresser doesn’t think this matters) and then briefs his audience on the play via a session with his female shrink. Odom plays both roles—the nearly naked depressed BJJ and the sickeningly sunny analyst (the audience only hears her voice). BJJ makes it clear that he is a black playwright trying to talk about race in America but he can’t get any white actors to take parts that implicate white Americans with slavery. The shrink helps him think through how to proceed, which results in the use of white, black and red makeup to make a black actor a white man, a white actor a black man, and another white actor a red man (a Native American). So what Jacobs-Jenkins does is through BJJ’s vulnerability (i.e. his nearly nakedness) is pull the audience through the Fourth Wall to make them intimates in the process of how this play is going to be enacted. As final touch to the opening scene, BJJ turns his back as he prepares to dress and play the white men roles (George, the good one, and M’Closkey, the bad one). With his back turned he pulls his briefs into his butt crack and essentially moons the audience.

 


 

Just in case you are wondering, the melodrama involves trying to save a plantation in financial ruin and its inhabitants from the clutches of the evil M’Closkey. Among the people affected is a young woman named Zoe who is the daughter of the newly dead plantation master. Zoe’s genetic makeup is 1/8 black. She is an octoroon whose status as a free person comes into question with the forced sale of the plantation.

 

What makes Jacobs-Jenkins’ play compelling is the discussion throughout the acts about how this play is being made or how it was made. The playwright is thorough and never drops the thread about how An Octoroon is or has been constructed. Almost a legerdemain, Jacobs-Jenkins tacks on a coda after the true end of the play provides a sensational boat-on-fire scene. The coda features two black women who have been sold to the river boat captain Ratts (Jobari Parker-Namdar). The women (played by Erika Rose and Felicia Curry) are looking forward to a new life away from the plantation not knowing their new home has been incinerated. But then their conversation turns back on itself with what-if questions and this mostly comic team turns serious and philosophic as the two deconstruct the play. Interestingly they perform before a scenery flat positioned close to the front of the stage duplicating how the old melodrama might have presented this scene. Scenery flats were positioned close to the front of the stage because lighting was a problem. Before 1850, night time theater in American was lit mostly by candlelight; after 1850, theaters began modernizing with gas lamps. What the positioning of the scenery does, in the Dresser’s mind, is create a sense of intimacy while also suggesting metaphorically that these characters are on stage to shine light on the situation.

 

There is a lot of meat on the bones of this play but the Dresser will add just these two additional things about a play with great acting, fluid directing (kudos to Director Nataki Garrett), and engaging sets and costumes—the fight scene between George and M’Closkey (remember: both roles are played by Jon Hudson Odom) revivals Cirque du Soleil contortionists. And what about the larger-than-life rabbit who walks through many of the scenes? The Dresser thinks the rabbit is Br’er Rabbit from the Uncle Remus tales—the trickster using his wit to thumb his nose at authority and to bend the rules as he sees fit. The rabbit is another stand-in for the playwright.

 

Henry Crawford’s “When [Box] Met <Diamond>” is a poem within a poem and it touches on the issues of slavery and enlightenment allowing an opportunity for a dialectic with Jacobs-Jenkins’ play An Octoroon. The Dresser presents Crawford’s poem and then a playful interchange between Crawford’s first poem of “When [Box] Met <Diamond>” and the Dresser’s ascribed nervous thoughts about first entering into “An Octoroon”—would the Dresser as audience be manipulated by the playwright and forced to watch something that tries her patience?

 

WHEN [BOX] MET <DIAMOND>

 

[I hope this is not another free verse poem.]

Before there were war planes [Oh no!] there was

going down in flames [it is.] Before there was

[What, repetition?] Greek tragedy

[And another lame enjambment.] there was

Greek slavery [I’m a person too, you know.]

Before there were <hey you> courts

[I think I deserve a better poem than this.] there were

courtiers <you, in the box> Before there were cities

<i see you> there were rivers [You don’t know how long]

Before there were rights [I’ve been trapped here.]

there were privileges <i know what it’s like to feel trapped>

[Tell me before he starts again.] Before there were pistols

[Oh crap!] there were shots [He got it off.]

 <i used to be a prisoner in a narrative poem>

Before there were lawyers there were [You?] laws

<god yes, but I found a way out> Before there was the big

[How did you leave?] there was the big bang

<take my hand> [I don’t think this will work.]

Before there were knives <now, just take my hand>

[Oh, this won’t work.] there was <just hold on>

[Yes, I can feel it.] cutting loose. <me too> Before

there was the Renaissance [Say it diamond!] there was

the Age of Enlightenment  <we’re outta here>

Before there were prisons, there were sentences.

 

 

by Henry Crawford

from American Software

 

“When [Box] Met <Diamond>” copyright © 2017 by Henry Crawford

WHEN [BOX] MET <DIAMOND> {First Poem}

 

[I hope this is not another free verse poem.]

 [Oh no!]

 [it is.]

[What, repetition?]

[And another lame enjambment.]

 [I’m a person too, you know.]

<hey you>

[I think I deserve a better poem than this.]

<you, in the box>

<i see you> [You don’t know how long]

 [I’ve been trapped here.]

<i know what it’s like to feel trapped>

[Tell me before he starts again.]

[Oh crap!] [He got it off.]

 <i used to be a prisoner in a narrative poem>

 [You?]

<god yes, but I found a way out>

[How did you leave?]

<take my hand> [I don’t think this will work.]

<now, just take my hand>

[Oh, this won’t work.] <just hold on>

[Yes, I can feel it.]. <me too>

 [Say it diamond!]

<we’re outta here>

 

 

WHEN [BOX] MET <DIAMOND> {First Poem with comments from the Dresser}

 

[I hope this is not another free verse poem.]

 

The Dresser: I hope An Octoroon is not another self-conscious play that messes with the audience.

 

 [Oh no!]

 [it is.]

[What, repetition?]

[And another lame enjambment.]

 [I’m a person too, you know.]

<hey you>

[I think I deserve a better poem than this.]

 

The Dresser: The audience deserves a better play than one messing with the audience.

 

<you, in the box>

<i see you> [You don’t know how long]

 [I’ve been trapped here.]

<i know what it’s like to feel trapped>

[Tell me before he starts again.]

[Oh crap!] [He got it off.]

 

The Dresser: I have seen naked actors on stage but somehow a male character wearing briefs seemed more unsettling than a completely naked body. What was the meaning of this state of  undress?

 

 <i used to be a prisoner in a narrative poem>

 [You?]

<god yes, but I found a way out>

[How did you leave?]

<take my hand> [I don’t think this will work.]

<now, just take my hand>

[Oh, this won’t work.] <just hold on>

[Yes, I can feel it.]. <me too>

 [Say it diamond!]

<we’re outta here>

 

The Dresser: Quite frankly when BJJ began the exchange with his shrink, I thought I and the audience were in for a long and tedious night of theater. I was completely surprised that the shrink could lead the despairing black playwright out of his funk with grease paint.

 

Now, Dear Reader, the Dresser will step back and allow you to see the parallels of the second poem in “When [Box] Met <Diamond>.”