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The America Play

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on 27 April 2015

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Transcript of The America Play

The America Play
by Suzan-Lori Parks
In Act I, the story centers around a man named “The Foundling Father, As Abraham Lincoln” who is a gravedigger who makes his living impersonating Abraham Lincoln, even to the point of recreating the shooting that took Lincoln’s life. The second act explores the attitudes and relationships of his ex-wife—Lucy—and son—Brazil—to both The Foundling Father’s experiences and to that of Lincoln himself.
Act One:
The Foundling Father, as Abraham Lincoln
A variety of Visitors

Act Two:
The Foundling Father, as Abraham Lincoln
2 Actors
The Visitors in Act One are played by the 2 Actors who assume the roles in the passages from Our American Cousin in Act Two.

A great hole.
In the middle of nowhere.
The hole is an exact replica of The Great Hole of History.

Synopsis of Acts and Scenes
Act One:
Lincoln Act

Act Two:
The Hall of Wonders
A. Big Bang
B. Echo
C. Archeology
D. Echo
E. Spadework
F. Echo
G. The Great Beyond

Suzan-Lori Parks
Pulitzer Prize Winner
MacArthur “Genius” Grant Recipient

This fascinating playwright, once taught by the one and only James Baldwin, is a prolific and sentient playwright. She explains that she writes based on listening to the voices that speak to her and doing what is in her heart. She says that:
“I don't have anything to say. I don't have 'a message.' I have nothing to say. I have things to show, and my writing all comes from listening. The more I can listen, the more I can write. Once I think I have something to say, it's over. I can't hear anything, because I'm talking.”

The America Play is a two-act play by Suzan-Lori Parks. It premiered at the Yale Repertory Theater in January 1994. The plot revolves around an unnamed African-American gravedigger—referred to as the "Foundling Father"—who gains a measure of fame due to his uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. His fame comes from an attraction he runs that, for the cost of a penny, allows customers to take on the role of John Wilkes Booth and re-enact Lincoln's assassination.
Schizophrenic? When Parks talks about the voices of the characters speaking to her being the catalyst to her writing, it reminds me of the Jameson reading and schizophrenia. “…the signifier in isolation becomes ever more material-or, better still, literal-ever more vivid in sensory ways, whether the new experience is attractive or terrifying.” The signifier being this literal voice she hears speaking to her and the signified being the play itself.
Language and Text
“Language is a physical act – something that requires yr whole bod”
“Rep and Rev” – Used to create a dramatic text that departs from the traditional linear dramatic style to look and sound more like a musical score.
Drama of accumulation:

o Characters re figure their words and through a re figuring of language show us that they are experiencing their situation anew.

o Breaks from the text that we are told to write

o Creates a real challenge for the director and actor as they create a physical life appropriate to the text.

- Instead of the play moving from A -> B, it moves from A -> A -> A -> B -> A

“Words are spells an actor consumes and digests, and through digesting creates a performance”
Made-up Words:
o Iduhnt – not or isn’t
o Heud – he would or he’d
o K – Ok

Postmodern or Modern?
o Lyotard – Language Games
o Jameson – Reaction to established forms of high modernism
“Schizoprenic experience,” perpetual present

Questions about the impact of the play in our society
• Does having masters and slaves go against democracy? Why? In the second quote, Lincoln accuses Americans of being
hypocritical why do you think it was so hard for a people who fought for their own freedom to give others the same? Are there still issues of hypocrisy and denial of rights in today’s world?
• Why did SuzanLori Parks choose to incorporate real historical quotes into her dialogue? What
has she achieved by doing this? What do the words spoken by Mary Todd and John Wilkes Booth reveal as to who they were as people, what they believed in, and what was important to them?

Comments and Critics
• Park does not make it easy for her audience to comprehend some meaning in her piece.
However, that struggle for meaning and striving to figure it out may be exactly what she is after- and African-American history- that she feels is missing,
• Simultaneously push toward and pull from understanding of African American ancestral past, and rather than exploring their own, each dons a way to interact with the past and the consequential suffering from a distance.

Staging The American Play by Nancy Keystone
“Act two, set has been struck to stunningly transform the stage into a black hole, complete with thick mounds of dirt from proscenium to back wall.”

Interview with Lori Parks and Liz Diamond
• History determines what is to be known, and to be known means to have a place in the social world. What Park’s play demonstrates is that in this process history creates a dominant class of those who are known, those who belong in history.
• Steve Drukman, who sees lucy as Park’s “mouthpiece’, Foster argues that, if there is no “real” history, “then there is no point in (her) digging for the “truth”
• Death and the task of understanding your historical place in an American world as an African American are on the same level of serenity.

Plot, Loss of Identity, and Perpetual Present
So….we talkin’ Modern here? Or Post-Modern?

• Schechner states: “Narrative has vanished….
everything is connected to everything else.”
o Foundling Father is connected to all of history and Lincoln himself, plus then he is connected to the Second Act.
• Jameson’s “schizophrenic experience” and “Perpetual present” are certainly seen in the lack of major connection between Act I and Act II.
o As a whole, the structure of the play is entirely different between Act I and Act II, with Act I being mostly a long monologue, told from the perspective of the Foundling Father. Act II assumes these smaller vignettes, or scenes, that are structured as traditional scenes would be, with multiple characters and dialogue being exchanged between them.

Knowledge, History Repeating Itself,
and Breaking Free From the Repetition Cycle
• Lyotard: “That technical knowledge is cumulative is never questioned. At most, what is debated is the form that accumulation takes—some picture it as regular, continuous, and unanimous; others as periodic, discontinuous, and conflictual.”
o On history repeating itself, Parks literally sets up a pastiche metanarrative within the play—The Foundling Father sitting in a booth and allowing patrons to come in and shoot him in order to recreate the assassination of Lincoln.
• Jameson: “If there is any realism left here, it is a ‘realism’ which springs from the shock of grasping that confinement and of realizing that, for whatever peculiar reasons, we seem condemned to seek the historical past through our own pop images and stereotypes about that past, which itself remains forever out of reach.”

Sooooo...all of history is a lie???
(Insert Gasp)
Parks sets forth this question of knowledge, how accurate it is,
and also how it is used as propaganda.
• Lyotard: “Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange.”
• Lyotard: “Who decides what knowledge is and who knows what needs to be decided? In the computer age, the question of knowledge is now more than ever a question of government.”

Actors can use big words too!
• Jameson states: “The signified…is an effect produced by the
inter-relationship of material signifiers.”
• Chiasmus, in rhetoric, is the figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point; that is, the clauses display inverted parallelism.

• Chiasmus was particularly popular in the literature
of the ancient world, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, where it was used to articulate the balance of order within the text.
o Parks starts out the entire play with an example of chiasmus from Oliver Goldsmith: “To stop too fearful and too faint to go.”
• Chiasmus can be used in the structure of entire passages to parallel concepts or ideas. This process, termed "conceptual chiasmus", uses a crisscrossing rhetorical structure to cause an overlapping of "intellectual space". Conceptual chiasmus utilizes specific linguistic choices, often metaphors, to create a connection between two differing disciplines. By employing a chiastic structure to a single presented concept, rhetors encourage one area of thought to consider an opposing area's perspective.
Full transcript