There’s a moment in Fences where Troy and Bono are telling a story about eating watermelon. In this play, we begin with two characters having secured a truckload of watermelons in order to sell. A student asked me this week what’s the deal with the watermelons. So I asked her “Hey, what’s the deal with the watermelons?” She said, maybe it’s to make the white people in the audience feel really uncomfortable? I said, I didn’t know the answer, but I think she’s onto something. One thing I do notice about both plays, and what makes the movie interesting too, is that not only is there maybe this moment of trying to make a white audience uncomfortable (by writing and making jokes that aren’t clear or where the irony is fraught), but also, there’s no white people in either play. There’s the imprint and affect of whiteness and white society in both plays, as in both characters are looking to figure out a world made for and by whiteness, and get something in return. But in both plays, as the characters look for these possibilities, there is a cost and the people in their families (the women especially) have to pay that cost.
I almost want to argue that this play is better than Fences, but that seems an unnecessary comparison. Instead, I will simply tell you what this play is like. It is incredibly plot heavy (events, not just speeches). The characters are real and well-developed, even for not being on stage for very long before the whole of the story gets going. They are all kinds of things, and like with Fences there’s not an apparent need to make them villains or heroes. They are a walking ball of conflicting flaws and virtues and realities.
In this play, a family of brothers and associates come together at their sister’s house with an attempt to sell the old family piano out from under her and use the money to buy back formerly slave-holding land down south. Like Fences, this is more or less Pittsburgh in the 1950s. This would-be family reunion involves a lot of yelling, a lot of storytelling, a lot of selfishness, and a maybe a ghost.
I am enlivened by this play because while I do like Fences I have read it several times and it’s very “play”like and stagey. This play is more like plot-driven and less built upon monologues and more built on interactions. It’s also somehow darker and more haunting.