Review: A Poet’s Urgent Questions Fuel ‘November’

By | November 12, 2020
Review: A Poet’s Urgent Questions Fuel ‘November’

Overview: A Poet’s Pressing Questions Gasoline ‘November’

Claudia Rankine is the prophet of Trump’s America. It’s a thankless job, and one which, to some extent, all Black Individuals are certified for, simply by the character of our presence in a rustic that disregards us.

In fact none of that is new to Rankine, an award-winning poet, playwright and scholar whose anthropological examinations of whiteness have helped inform a lot of our current conversations on race. Within the quickly assembled 51-minute movie “November” — an tailored model of her play “Assist” that was commissioned by The Shed however scuttled by the pandemic — Rankine and the director Phillip Youmans current a bit that, regardless of its self-consciously decorative fashion, incisively conveys an pressing message of awakening for this America.

“You’ve joined us right here in our liminal house, an area neither right here nor there, an area of quarantine and uncertainty,” certainly one of 5 actress-narrators filmed onstage on the Shed begins. If you realize Rankine’s work, this could sound acquainted. A lot of the play double-dips from the textual content of her 2019 New York Occasions Journal article “I Wished to Know What White Males Considered Their Privilege. So I Requested” and her newest guide, “Simply Us: An American Dialog.”

The script displays on exchanges Rankine has had with white males in airports and on planes, alongside her sometimes cerebral musings on race relations and what she has termed the “racial imaginary,” a classroom-ready phrase describing the stress between one’s imagined notions of race — whether or not stereotyped or willfully ignored — and the truth.

Zora Howard, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, Crystal Dickinson, April Matthis and Melanie Nicholls-King commerce off elements of the prolonged monologue, which is paired with visible metaphors that recall Rankine’s fondness for hybridity, as expressed in her books “Citizen” and “Simply Us.” Different performers — together with a white man, a stand-in for the type of white masculinity Rankine describes — recur all through, enjoying basketball at an out of doors courtroom, laughing at a celebration or swimming in a public pool.

Just some weeks in the past, I reviewed “Simply Us,” a piece that oftentimes feels too distant and meditative, as if caught within the realm of race concept fairly than the true world. “November” extracts probably the most hanging language from its sibling and factors it like a weapon at a racist America. “What number of occasions have I been instructed to not be indignant about my very own homicide?” one narrator asks. It’s certainly one of many salient questions that Rankine affords in a tone each prodding and demanding of motion.

“Ought to I, the Black lady, simply get on with this system of accommodating white males, their lives, their lies, their traces?” she asks. Later, as we watch a Black lady mendacity on a white flooring silhouetted by flowers, we’re requested to think about the deaths of Renisha McBride and Breonna Taylor: “Why do I’ve to die so as so that you can reside?”

When you’re not grappling with why these questions are needed proper now, then you’re doing one thing improper.

Although “Assist” was initially slated to be carried out by one Black feminine narrator surrounded by a bevy of white males, “November” radically adjustments that dynamic. Although the a number of narrators would appear to be a technique to present multiplicity — all Black girls, not simply Rankine — the play’s construction doesn’t work laborious sufficient to earn it.

There are standout performers, although. Nicholls-King has the identical unflappable coolness to her supply as does the poet herself. And Howard, who can also be a playwright, has each star high quality and a strong presence, as if every line have been breathed straight into her physique. (Her play “Stew,” that includes nimble dialogue and a little bit of Shakespeare, superbly instructed a story of Black Individuals caught in a cycle of hardship and violence.)

If solely Youmans, who garnered popularity of his award-winning feature-film debut, “Burning Cane” (which he wrote, edited and directed whereas nonetheless in highschool), may absolutely honor Rankine’s dazzling phrases along with his imagery. Her heady writing requires house for contemplation, however Youmans’s intercut pictures are inclined to compete with it.

The intentionally clumsy camerawork, shaky, unfocused and dizzying, jogged my memory of designer clothes that’s meant to look distressed: artwork as calculated disarray. The entire aesthetic of the piece is affected: After we’re within the Shed, the narrators take to an empty stage with massive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling behind them and three previous TV units, exhibiting solely static.

The theater feels each underdressed and overwhelmed by the distracting radiance of the chandeliers. However on this method and lots of others, “November” does seize the liminal house, not merely in an airport terminal, however in our present state of affairs.

Together with the staticky TV screens are different symbols of stalled progress: a Black couple in a automotive that eternally circles in a car parking zone; underwater swimmers, coming towards and heading away from the digicam. And naturally, conceptually, “November” itself is in-between: theater and movie, polemic and poem, documentary and interpretation.

To look at “November” on Sunday evening was to expertise it in-between, as properly. Over the following a number of days its considerations will tackle monumental weight for a lot of viewers fearful concerning the election. But although the movie was created and produced during the last 4 weeks, “November” doesn’t level straight sufficient to the protests and the pandemic, each of which concerned Black lives. Nor can we see the ballot traces, stretching into the horizon, that characterize racial injustice so acutely.

That isn’t to say that Rankine doesn’t give us loads to chew on; she at all times does. The previous few years have made me freshly conscious of my Blackness, in methods which might be horrifying and saddening and infuriating. Works like “November” remind me of what I discover, as a Black lady, in on a regular basis life: the slurs, the microaggressions.

As I wait to see what our democracy brings this week, Rankine’s work makes me think about the thought: Am I, too, a prophet of this America?

November
Out there on demand via Nov. 7; theshed.org

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