June 02, 2009

For those of you who cannot fly to NY on a whim and someone else’s dime.

You too can be like the Big O

Below is a synopsis of the play that the Pres and Michelle My Belle went to see. Looks like more of the same to me. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. He defines himself this way, he lives in the past. Even though he is POTUS he still has to dwell on his ethnicity. Well 50% of it anyway. If you ask me the damn thing is scary. But it has all of Big O’s favorite things except Fritters and Pie. It talks about Songs, trains, slaves, oppression, struggle, ghosts, fathers, loaning money, evil white people, evil capitalists, wild religions, and sacrifice (of pigeons).

Joe Turner's Come and Gone is a play by American playwright, August Wilson, the second installment of his decade-by-decade chronicle of the African-American experience,The Pittsburgh Cycle. … which chronicled the struggles and lives of African-Americans in the 20th century. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is set in the second decade of the 20th century and chronicles the lives of a few freed former enslaved African-Americans in the North. The play deals with issues of race and reconstruction, but also more broadly examines finding your personal identity and finding your way in life. With many former enslaved Africans moving North looking for jobs and security after the emancipation, there was racial tension between the newly freed former enslaved Africans and many of the white working class and the immigrants coming into the country looking for the same jobs that the African-Americans were looking for. This play acknowledges this conflict and shows how certain characters dealt with the problem.

Scene 1- The audience is introduced to Seth Holly’s boardinghouse, where Seth and his wife Bertha are in the kitchen watching Bynum in the backyard. Seth is complaining to Bertha about Bynum’s strange spiritual activities. Bertha tells Seth to let him be as he isn’t bothering anyone. They also talk about Jeremy, a young man staying in the boardinghouse, getting arrested the night before for supposedly being drunk in public. Seth then has a monologue about the poor situation that the freed slaves are in after traveling up North. He worries that the African-Americans are too naïve and that all the promises of jobs in the North will be taken by the poor white Americans. Then Rutherford Selig, the People Finder, comes to order dustpans from Seth, a maker of pots and pans. Then Bynum talks about an adventure that he once took up river where he found the “shiny man”, a man he found on the road that offered to explain to him the Secret of Life. He had a spiritual encounter with the man, and sees the ghost of his father, telling him to find his song in life. His song, he later explains, is the Binding Song, which he uses to bind people to one another. Selig leaves and Jeremy enters, and after getting a scolding from Seth, he tells him that the white cops came and picked him up for no reason and that he was, in fact, not drunk at all. Then Herald Loomis and his daughter Zonia enter, looking for a place to stay for the week. They reveal that he is looking for his wife, Martha. After Seth shows them to their room, Jeremy relates a story about his guitar-playing abilities and how he is wary of playing for white men or money because of a bad experience. Bynum convinces Jeremy to go down to a bar to play for some money. Seth confides in the Bynum and Bertha his lack of confidence in Loomis, and thinks that he is a “mean looking” man and he doesn’t want to help him find his wife because of it. After this Mattie Campbell enters, looking for Bynum because she has heard that he can “fix things”. Her man, Jack has up and left her, but she wants him to come back. Bynum tells her that he can only bind people that wish to be bound; that she is better off just letting him find his own path in life. Jeremy intervenes and suggests that Mattie stays with him as to cure both of their loneliness. The scene ends with Zonia and Reuben, the little boy from next door. Reuben discloses Bynum’s odd tendencies to Zonia and tells her a story about his friend Eugene that used to sell pigeons to Bynum so he could use their blood in his rituals.

Scene Two- It is a week later and the audience again finds Seth and Bertha eating breakfast in the kitchen. Seth is still worried about Loomis’s intentions and doesn’t like the look of the man. He suspects that he knows who Loomis’s wife is but won’t tell him because he is worried about what he will do once he finds her. Selig returns to the house to pick up the dustpans that Seth has made for him and Loomis pays him to try to find his wife because Bynum tells him that Selig is the People Finder.

Scene Three- It is the next day and yet again we find Seth and Bertha in the kitchen. Seth is upset because he can’t find anyone to front him the money to make a new factory for making pots and pans. Then Bynum and Jeremy talk about the importance of being in love with a woman and how being with a woman is all a man needs in life. Then the last boarder enters, Molly Cunningham. She is also looking for a place to stay because she missed her train to Cincinnati. Jeremy takes a liking to Molly’s appearance.

Scene Four- Again they are in the kitchen of the boarding house when the scene opens. The group has just finished eating breakfast when Seth suggests they “juba”- an African style call and response song and dance. Loomis enters and demands that they stop the singing. He goes into an episode where he talks in tongues and falls to the floor. He starts recalling a religious hallucination and Bynum has to calm him down and take him upstairs.

Act Two

Scene 1- Seth informs Loomis that he has to leave the boardinghouse because he thinks that Loomis was drunk when he had his episode. Seth tells him that he runs a respectable house and won’t put up with any shenanigans. Loomis and Zonia have until the next Saturday to leave the house. Bynum, Molly and Mattie are left in the kitchen where they talk about how children often follow in their parents’ footsteps. Molly asserts that she will never follow her father’s path and that she will always be a strong, independent woman. Mattie leaves for Doc Goldblum’s, where she cleans and irons for work. Jeremy returns to the house from work and reveals to Seth that he would not give a white foreman 50 cents to keep his job so he was fired. Seth thinks it was an idiotic choice because now he is out of a job and no longer makes $8 a month. Molly tells Jeremy that he could easily get his job back by simply returning to work. Jeremy then asks Molly to travel around with him because he needs a woman that is independent and knows what she wants. Molly agrees but refuses to return to the South.

Scene Two- Bynum and Seth are playing a game of dominoes and Bynum is singing a song about Joe Turner. Loomis asks Bynum to stop because he is uncomfortable with the song. Bynum reveals that he knew all along that Loomis was taken away by Joe Turner and that he needs to find his song in order to start his life again. Loomis relates his story to Bynum and Seth, telling them that he was taken by Joe Turner’s men while trying to preach to some gambling African-Americans. He spent seven years on Turner’s chain gang and only survived by the thought of his wife and daughter. He tells them that after seven years he returned home to find that his wife had left and his daughter was living with her grandmother. The scene ends with Loomis being skeptical of Bynum and his voodoo abilities.


Scene Five- In the final scene Loomis and Zonia leave the boardinghouse as it is Saturday. Bertha tells Mattie that all she needs in life is love and laughing- which they all start to do. Then Martha Pentecost [Loomis] enters with Selig looking for Loomis and Zonia. Loomis reenters with Zonia and he recounts the last decade of his life; his search for her and the heartache it has caused him. Martha tells him that she has moved on with her life because she couldn’t wait for him any longer. Martha also reveals that she had Bynum put a binding spell on her and Zonia and that is why they have come to find each other. Loomis goes into a rage and pulls out a knife. He denounces his Christian background and slashes his chest. The stage directions read “Having found his song, the song of self-sufficiency, fully resurrected, cleansed and given breath, free from any encumbrance other than the workings of his own heart and the bonds of the flesh, having accepted the responsibility for his own presence in the world, he is free to soar above the environs that weighed and pushed his spirit into terrifying contractions.” He leaves and the play ends with Bynum yelling “Herald Loomis, you shining! You shining like new money!”

Character analysis

Seth Holly- Born of free African-American parents in the North, Seth seems to be the only static figure in the play. He has some security in the fact that he owns a home and has steady job that none of the other characters can claim. He is set in his ways; never losing his composure and always running a respectable house. He even condemns other African-Americans that do not follow this kind of lifestyle. He is economically very capitalistic and does whatever is necessary to stay afloat; including working night shifts and odd craftsman jobs he can pick up from Selig. He understands his world on a very literal level, and doesn’t aspire to become more than he is.

Bertha Holly- As Seth’s wife, Bertha is also pretty static. She knows her place in the hierarchy of the boardinghouse, yet still has some say in the decision making and will often voice her opinion. Her happy-go-lucky nature and motherly care makes Bertha the character that some seek out for advice. In the end, she tells Mattie that the only two things you need in your life are love and laughter; the things that she has had faith in and have helped her get by.

Bynum Walker- Also comfortable with his identity as an African conjurer, Bynum is one of few characters that understands his own identity. Known as a “Binder”, Bynum was taught his “song” early in his life and has continued to sing it ever since. At the complete opposite spectrum of Seth, Bynum is still completely in touch with his African roots and often performs rituals and tribal traditions. Convinced of the fact that everyone has their own song, Bynum perpetuates the theme of identity and our constant search for it.

Rutherford Selig- The only white character in the play, Selig is a descendent of white men that brought slaves over the Atlantic to be sold in America. Known as the people finder, Bertha is extremely suspicious of Selig, claiming that he only finds people that he takes away in the first place. This suspicion of white peddler perpetuates the mistrust between the races in the North and histories repetition. Selig’s identity is well enforced with the history of his ancestors and the professions that he and they chose.

Herald Loomis-Having been enslaved by Joe Turner for seven years, Loomis has completely lost his way in life. His wife moved to the North and left him with his young daughter. His world as a deacon of his church, father, husband, land owner, was completely destroyed when he was abducted. As Bynum later points out, Loomis has lost his song to Turner and needs to find himself through his own identity, not by identifying with his previous life. In the end he finds his song, an independent, self-sufficient song that he can sing proudly.

Molly Cunningham- Molly represents the opposite of Mattie. Molly is young, attractive, and independent. Unwilling to let herself be told what to do anymore, by anyone, Molly is convinced that she will never return to the South and refuses be associated with anything that her old life entailed.

Martha Pentecost- Like Molly, Martha is an independent African-American woman. She decided to leave the South after she felt that Herald could no longer have been alive. She attempted to escape the racial persecution, but still finds it In the North. For strength, she rejects her African identity and turns to Christianity. She does what it takes to ensure her self preservation and remains a strong, self-sufficient woman until the end.


The major themes in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone are identity, migration, and racial discrimination..


….The juba is described as:

“(The Juba is reminiscent of the ring shouts of the African slaves. It is a call and response dance. BYNUM sits at the table and drums. He calls the dance as other clap hands, shuffle, and stomp around the table. It should be as African as possible, with the performers working themselves up into a near frenzy. The words can be improvised, but should include some mention of the Holy Ghost.”

This song is a way for the African-Americans to relate with one another and continue their relationship with their heritage. Finally, Bynum is often seen and heard singing throughout the show. The first time he sings is to lighten the mood from the work they are doing. Then later he sings about Joe Turner kidnapping slaves and forcing them to work on his chain gang. Bynum’s singing is a characterization of his wisdom and age. He seems to know a song for all occasions and characters. Not only does he physically sing on stage, Bynum’s character also refers to “finding your song”. Music is so important to this man that each person’s soul and purpose in life is characterized by their song.

Joe Turner's Come and Gone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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