What is black art today? Who is pioneering the field? How are they connected to community?
Those questions, and much more, will be explored when Penumbra Theatre presents a double bill of Obie-winning one act plays, “Dutchman” by Amiri Baraka and “The Owl Answers” by Adrienne Kennedy, which run throughout the month of March at the famous St. Paul theater.
Specifically, the above questions will be addressed in detail at post-show discussions of the March 10, 17, and 24 performances. But, the overall themes of internalized racism, love versus obsession, attraction and morality, naturalistic violence and phantasmagoria will be examined and brought to life by two one act plays that not only shook the very ground they stood on, but broke it wide open for all the world to see.
Baraka, who has been called “the father of the modern black arts movement,” uses a ghost train, of sorts, to tell the harrowing trip of an African American man and a Caucasian woman — an allegorical earthquake which hit New York square in its jaw when “Dutchman” premiered at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1964.
Only a year later, at The White Barn in Westport, Conn., Kennedy’s “The Owl Answers” struck from the other direction. It follows an African American girl who, in a delusion that seems all-too-real, questions both her heritage and her identity by daring to confront stereotypes in a highly experimental, decidedly un-stereotypic way.
These plays, just as crucial in today’s society as they were when they first appeared, are the type of events that are best experienced rather than described.
Where words fall short, there is action. Where action falls short, there is emotion. When justice falls short, there is an intersection where they all meet. That is art.
Kennedy and Baraka offer up works that are so visceral, only the stage can properly handle them. Extreme, avant-garde, riding the edge of several razors at once, both plays ask us to enter dark worlds, where the inexplicable is given a tongue, where the human condition cries out in universal anguish, and where the questions asked are sadly still with us.
If you go
What: “The Dutchman and the Owl Answers”: An evening of Obie Award-winning one acts
When: March 1-27
Where: Penumbra Theatre, 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul