Sarah Burke, Contributor
I left the Pillsbury House Theater on October 4th broken and angry; Pillsbury had just put on a performance of Jimmy and Lorraine: A Musing, and my breath pooled out into the cold air as I huffed my way back to the bus stop. Talvin Wilks scripted this beautiful piece about two literary giants, James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, as they faced off against White America to fight racial injustices against African Americans through their writing. There I was, an eighteen-year-old white girl, absolutely fuming because I realized how little this part of history had shown up in my textbooks. This hour and a half play had taught me more about the struggle and exhaustion faced by Black Americans in the middle of the 20th century than any class, or any lecture I had ever had.
The play itself was staged as a conversation between Lorraine, a beautiful, intellectual playwright hiding her sexuality from her husband, and James, an author still deeply in love with the man that had been the muse to his writings. The actors sat in lounge chairs as if the audience were merely a part of their schemes and inside jokes. The two recounted their lives together through games of Truth or Dare, in which Baldwin (Jon-Michael Reese) would dance and pout at his friend while Hansberry (Vinecia Coleman) would smile her special smirk and they would both laugh as they puffed on cigarettes. Reese played with the idea of Baldwin’s spontaneity as he moved across the stage in a natural fluidity, always swinging his hands out before waltzing away dramatically. Coleman, on the other hand, played Hansberry as a steady, fiery figure, always gazing out into the audience before spewing wisdom in the form of a speech.
The stage itself was quite simply set, with only two desks and a small audomine. In the background blasted real images from the Civil Rights Movement, making the scene feel even closer to reality than fiction. But the stage itself did not need dynamic pieces or colorful furniture because the raw emotion portrayed in the acting was plenty to satisfy any audience member. Multiple times I sat with tears rolling down my cheeks, while other moments I had to catch my breath from laughing.
This play was a beautiful work of art that ended exactly how it should have: leaving you feeling as if there is still work to be done. Though Baldwin and Lorraine helped make leaping strides for black and LGBTQ+ people, the final scene reminds you that the realities of our past are not really of our past, but still part of our current reality.
This article was originally published in the October 11, 2019 issue.