Robert Henry Johnson’s new play is Euphrates deep. I don’t know if the Euphrates is deep except that it is old and ancient, old as in wise, deep, having depth. The analogy has a ring to it I like. The play, "Untitled Script for Maafa," is not for children—unless the child is an old soul. Many adults shut down before the first act tonight. Some nodded in this seats, others politely excused themselves (smile).
The beginning is just a prologue, the story starts long before the older mermaid or Mami Wati passes the torch to the younger woman, who in sea creature days at 200+ is a youth. She has to visit a memory yard to pick up a train of thought lost long ago or tossed away even earlier than that. Ignorance is not bliss, but not having active memories makes life a lot less complicated, at least that's what our protagonist thinks.
Life on the Atlantic floor is not conducive to intellectual development circa 1756. The opposite is true. It seems to be a place where creatures arrive broken and stay that way into the next century and the next and the next until we run into each other(ancestors meet your descendents).
The protagonist lives in a glass house without a door. A shark is in love with her and though he tries to change, he can’t help eating Africans, whose carcasses he leaves at her doorstep wondering what she sees in them that he lacks.
Robert plays with so many themes here . . . the cast a chorus and bridge and a nation. So much life and history to squeeze between two hours—
We didn’t make it. The African American Art and Culture Complex closed and so did the play. . . I will return tomorrow at 2 PM when the cast will perform again, this time to the work's conclusion. One actress told me there was a half hour left.
When the play ended, a chief who’d sold Africans to their death found himself at the bottom of the ocean as well—he’d cleared the sharks—a pariah, he wishes for death, but it eludes him, his dreams nightmares. He tries to negotiate a deal with Mami Wata who is the custodian of the deep.
I found it interesting how over time the Africans in the ocean became less human and more fish until they were completely transformed, unrecognizable.
Negroes are not African. Blacks are not either. So who are we?
The character who intrigued me the most was one who arrived without a head. He rides a tortoise named Pegasus, who carries the headless body--the two looking and inquiring for its head, without any luck. Pegasus complains he is getting old and wants to stop roaming, yet what will become of his passenger and friend if he stops, so he keeps on looking and asking.
The body without a head can’t return home—too embarrassing one character says, yet even those with their heads severed can’t return, because they have lost their memories –they no longer know who they are.
One character asks us to define him, to name him. How is that possible when we can't answer the question regarding ourselves? He is just one of many lens Robert turns outward as characters explore these questions internally.
These people who by some twist of fate, miss sharks' teeth and arrive safely, no longer have a language . . . they arrive with so much less than when they first left home.
A child asks to go home. She is told she can't return.
Is this glass house a metaphor for the fragility of black lives in the Diaspora? We are seen as superhuman, but perhaps this heroism is costly, its cost our souls?
Robert connects the greed that landed millions of Africans in the West –bones charting the journey below, to the greed that continues to push the agenda of those descendants of those Europeans whose greed disrupted the lives of so many 150 odd years later.
Dr. Derethia Du Val, one of the panelists who spoke this evening, said that Africa has the largest land mass yet has fewer people than the other continents comparatively; this population deficit is linked to human trafficking--30-60 million people kidnapped, sold, stolen and enslaved.
After the Prologue: The Glass House Monologues (present), is the Second Prologue: The Disappearance of Gentle Prologues (almost 300 years later), Act 1: Members of Collective Memory (That evening), Act 11: Ipos's Heart (A week later). We didn't get to Act 11.
The AAACC is located at 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco. Visit www.maafasfbayarea.com and www.pahwebstarts.com