Monday, November 11, 2013

Harlem Duet CSI


Djanet Sears:
  • Toronto  playwright, director, and actor; professor at University of Toronto
  • Born in England to a Guyanese father and a Jamaican mother
  • Named Janet by her parents; added the D when she found a town called Djanet on a trip to Algeria
  • Founding member of Obsidian Theater
  • First play: Afrika Solo (1987)
    • Highly acclaimed, broadcast on CBC Radio
    • Fictionalized account of her year-long journey through Africa in search of an identity
    • Explored the complexities of growing up as an African-Canadian with a mixed cultural background
    • Sears played the lead role; largely a solo performance
  • Harlem Duet (1997)
    • 2006: With this play, Sears became the first black playwright to have her work performed at the Stratford Festival of Canada
    • Stratford Festival had a conservative, white image that modern audiences were becoming less interested in; Sears attracted a new audience
    • Hoped that Harlem Duet would inspire a movement
  • Motives for writing
    • Feels compelled to write so black people continue to have a voice
    • Not enough plays “filled with people who look like me, telling stories about me, my family, my friends, my community”
  • Founded in 17th century as a village for Dutch immigrants
  • Black people started emigrating to Harlem during the Great Migration (1905)
  • 1920s and 30s was a center for black artistic revolution called “Harlem Renaissance”
Apollo Theater:
  • Music hall noted for African American performers
Harlem Renaissance:
  • Cultural movement during the 20s and 30s   
  • Characterized by influx of Negro literature, music, art
  • Also contributed to a new sense of identity within the black community
  • Significant members of the Renaissance include
    • W.E.B. Du Bois
    • Langston Hughes
Martin Luther King Jr:
  • Non-violent protest
  • Integration into white society
  • Race doesn’t make us, just our skin not ourselves
Malcom X:
  • Black supremacy
  • Separate black and white communities
  • Scoffed at racial integration


  • Shakespeare “Othello”
    • handkerchief
    • “sybil”
    • Othello plans on going to Cyprus
    • Chris Yago
    • “There’s magic in the web of it” (3.4) and (35)
    • HE:
      • “If virtue no delighted beauty lack, Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (2.6)
      • Recites Othello’s speech of why Desdemona married him (2.9)
  • Martin Luther King Jr “I have a dream” speech
    • Billie and Othello recite parts of the speech together and then Billie recites it separately
  • Aretha Franklin “Spanish Harlem”
    • Cover of Ben E. King song, released summer of 1971
    • Rose grows fulls of dreams but then is put in someone’s garden to grow to his standards
  • Paul Gilroy: Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line
    • Race is an artificial label that is imposed by present-day society but no longer relevant in a global market
    • Condemns “racializing and raciological thought,” endorses a “common humanity”
    • Othello similarly claims to be “against race,” that his African history and black personhood are secondary to his cultural “American-ness”
    • “I am a middle class educated man. I mean, what does Africa have to do with me. We struttin’ around professing some imaginary connection to a land we don’t know. Never seen. Never gonna see.”
  • Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask
    • Argues that black people who lose their native cultural origin experience an inferiority complex
    • “Corporeal malediction”—a term coined by Fanon
    • Billie uses the term to refer to Othello as yet another black man who tries to “White wash” his life
  • Shakespeare’s Pericles
    • “HE” says Mona cast him as the “prince of Tyre”
    • Prince of Tyre, flees from home, forms a family, is separated from his family but finally reunited
    • Relates to the unexpected death of Billie’s mother and her strained relationship with her father, Canada


  • HER far more educated than HIM
    • “Cleotus and Venus” (34)
    • Similar to Desdemona’s intellectual superiority over Othello
  • HIM demonstrates his love
    • Stage directions rather than words
    • HIM = Othello, a man of action
  • The fatal handkerchief
    • In Othello, the “ocular proof” that drives Othello to kill Desdemona and himself
    • In Harlem Duet, literally fatal, having been poisoned by Billie
      • Billie tries to warn Magi that the handkerchief was poisoned, regretting her actions
      • Othello is talked out of using poison by Iago
  • Canada
    • Canada as a historical promiseland
    • Canada the character is flawed, unable to improve Billie’s situation, but a symbol of hope nevertheless
    • Reflects on Canada the location
  • Three settings: the timelessness of racial prejudice
    • Sears: “It gave depth that I wanted”
    • Billie: “Trapped in history. A history trapped in me.”

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