David Neilson 
Member since Nov 11, 2011



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Re: “Theater: For the Love of Harlem

Bait & Switch
Even though there were some stellar moments in this play, I am surprised and disappointed that it was not so much about the Black Harlem experience as it was about the gay experience. As the central theme in the play I am surprised that it is not noted anywhere. It appears that the playwright or sponsors decided that the southern audience would not come out for a gay themed representation of the Harlem Renaissance so they would cynically or cowardly simply ignore it in the promotion of the production.
Let us be very clear that this is not some anti-gay diatribe or a myopic view on how we want to see our beloved Harlem luminaries portrayed. The promo materials promise to profile the lives of the visionaries of the Harlem Renaissance and how their movement impacted the American and African American culture. What we get instead is a portrayal of the gay characters struggling with the complexities and challenges of being homosexual in the Black 1920′s. We get little or no insight into their artistic vision, the Black Harlem experience, or the importance of the Movement in general.
If only the playwright or sponsors had enough conviction the their vision to tell us what the play was really about , our expectations would have aligned us for a better experience. Or, as they may have feared, many would not have been interested in a play with such a narrow agenda.
That being said this could have been a very compelling play if it was approached with much more conviction. I felt that the playwright was straddling the fence in trying to portray the complex lives and wrenching turmoil of the central characters while attempting to deliver the musical and aesthetic flavor that Harlem is known for. The non sequitur melding of those elements left me feeling that the overall play lacked gravity.
This play had one of the strongest and most enjoyable opening numbers that I have seen. It was great and it did set the bar very high for the rest of the show. The ensemble pieces were also very good but they were all weighed down by the narrow agenda and the one dimensional handling of the characters.

Our Gay brothers and Sisters have their own unique voice and valuable contributions that we all should recognize but the Black experience and the Gay experience are not the same. One is not superior to the other, there are some affinities but I find it disingenuous to market the Black experience and deliver another. Simply put “do as you say”. So “For the Love of Harlem” should just come out of the closet in its marketing and promotion and say what it is. Some may not chose to see it but those that do will have an opportunity to enjoy a play that speaks to their heart and interest.


Posted by David Neilson on 11/11/2011 at 1:09 PM

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