(The following appears in the fall 2009 issue of BOMB.)
by Margo Jefferson
“But what exactly is a black? First of all, what’s his color?” Jean Genet prefaced his incendiary 1959 play, The Blacks: A Clown Show, with those words. I’m happy to appropriate and apply them to Thomas Bradshaw, for his plays (published by Samuel French, Inc.) also invade dangerous, treacherous territories. I interviewed him at the Lark Theater this past July. He was preparing for a workshop of his latest play, Job, at Soho Rep, which gives that sacred biblical text some seriously profane and welcome revisions. Thomas Bradshaw is a “distinct shade of brown,” to use a phrase uttered by the father of Marvin Gaye in a Rolling Stone interview conducted after he had murdered his son. (“Negroes” calling themselves “blacks” were one of Reverend Gaye’s many grievances.)
These are the kinds of lethal facts and ironies that Bradshaw cherishes. His plays are full of high-achieving suburbanites—college profs, corporate lawyers—cheerfully gripped by sexual, racial, and religious manias, and often set on ignoring the fact that they are alcoholics and cokeheads. The first one I saw was Prophet, which began when a well-groomed, well-spoken man any woman in the audience might have mistaken for a decent prospect, clasped his hands together and prayed: “Lord, I have failed to be masculine. I am not worthy of my penis.” To become worthy, he is instructed by the Lord to time-travel back to 1865, that deadly year when slavery ended and the women’s movement was reinvigorated. His mission was to marry a “Negress” and re-enslave her.
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