Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Raisin In The Stunned

Selma Dombrowski’s drama class consisted of 20 to 30 students whose desks were arranged in a rectangle around the room, leaving the center of the room open for performance, a theatre in the square, if you will.

Often we’d do readings of plays, with students taking turns portraying the characters and pauses taken to discuss relevant portions of the text.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience in a classroom, but occasionally it’s obvious that someone in the class really has some talent, not just some skill but something that is probably going to influence their career choice.

In our class we had such a one. Let’s call him The Star.

I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense for he was actually a very nice fellow. He never lorded his obvious talent over the rest of the class, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that he was light years more accomplished than the majority of us, who were more likely to end up making shadow puppets than dazzling audiences on Broadway. The stentorian tone of his voice, his facility with language, just the way he carried himself had most of us convinced that he had probably been reciting Shakespeare as he exited the womb.

One day, with no little excitement, Ms. Dombrowski announced a new class project. Each one of us would be required to come up with a monologue which we would perform before the class. It could be a pre-existing piece, or something we’d written ourselves. But every one of us had to come up with something, which was not particularly good news for those of us who had stage fright issues. Nevertheless, the project was on and there was a good deal of conjecture about what The Star would come up with. His selection would automatically become the bar to which our other, far more modest, projects aspired.

Of course, there was also the issue of what to come up with for myself. What were my strengths, my weaknesses? Should I trust in the mask of Comedy or Tragedy? What was my motivation?

Various schemes percolated in my teenage brain as my debut drew near, but before my turn at bat, The Star was required to reveal his selection. He did not disappoint.

Lorraine Hansberry’s celebrated A Raisin In The Sun is the story of a struggling black family who must decide what is most important to them. In fact, a recent revival of Raisin (featuring P. Diddy no less) ended up winning two Tony awards last year. It has many dramatic moments that stand on their own and The Star had selected a monologue that closed Act II, one that was delivered by Sidney Poitier in the film version.

This particular monologue is a tour-de-force of suffering, pain, and hope. The Star gave a truly accomplished and mature performance of it using all the weapons in his arsenal, i.e., stentorian tone, etc., as he pounded the chair with every line. He almost seemed at times to actually be channeling Poitier, as much as any 18-year old Jewish kid could.

When he was finished, the class practically awarded him a standing ovation. Ms. Dombrowski even went around the room asking each student about their reaction, something she had never done for anyone else.

But it would not be the last time she did it. There would be one other performance she would deem to be of sufficient quality and innovation to warrant such treatment.

They had no idea, as the applause for The Star dwindled away, what was coming.

Next: Blackboard Jugular!


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