Class, Gender, and Race at the Center of Dutchman- William Harris Papers

Authored by Katie Ranno

Review of "Dutchman" by William B. Harris at the wellknown Perry Street Theatre in 1977. A one-act play with one location tackles the topics of race, class, and gender head on. Courtesy of Marymount Manhattan College
Review of “Dutchman” by William B. Harris at the wellknown Perry Street Theatre in 1977. A one-act play with one location tackles the topics of race, class, and gender head on.

My Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) project has been focused on gathering more information about the Dutchman review pictured above. The object was written by William B. Harris, a writer of many talents, including that of theatre reviews. He died in the year 2000 (Brown 2001, 2). Marymount College has since received a number of his works, and now it is their mission to keep his writings alive and accessible so that the general public can learn about part of New York’s theatre history through his writings.

This particular production of Dutchman took place at the Perry Street Theatre with performances beginning on February 10, 1977 (Salem 1984, 46). The one-act play was written in 1963 by LeRoi Jones (also known as Imamu Amiri Baraka) tells the story of a white woman named Lula and a black man named Clay who become interested in each other while sitting on a subway (Als 2007, 1). However, preconceived notions cloud their judgments, taking the play in a direction that tackles class, gender, and race head on.

In his review, William B. Harris finds the staging of the production to be “awkward” stating that the director’s “special definition diminished the claustrophobic tension of the piece, and inadvertently created poor sight lines (Harris 1977).” However, he applauds the performances by leads Sandy Martin and Les Roberts, calling their work “detailed (Harris 1977).” Harris points out that the work might be an “outdated diatribe about racial conflict (Harris 1977)” in 1977. However, the play still resonates with how it handles the “innuendos of the delicacy of male-female relationships (Harris, 1977).”

Dutchman is LeRoi Jones first work outside of poetry. At the time, Jones was looking to write what he called “action literature” and finished the play within roughly 24 hours (Als 2005, 1). In a review of a 2007 production of the intense play, it would be referred to as “a 55-minute howl against the damage America inflicts on black men (Blackenship 2007).” The review describing Lulu as a “temptress” and a metaphor for a “white America that teases black people with acceptance before destroying them (Blackenship 2007).” The play clearly shows Jones’ anger with the politics and current events of the 1960’s.

The Perry Street Theatre was once a beaming ray of light in Greenwich Village and the theatre scene itself. The theatre at 31 Perry Street first opened back in 1975 with Vasek Simek directing (Perry Street Theatricals, n.d.). It would close in 1995 and be reopened in 2005 by current co-directors David Elliott and Martin Platt (Simonson 2006). Commercial developers would take over the property in 2006, turning into a space that now includes condos (Perry Street Theatricals, n.d.). However, Perry Streets legacy continues to live on under the new name Perry Street Theatricals. It is now located uptown in an office at 1650 Broadway where the company provides commercial producer and general manager service to various plays (Perry Street Theatricals, n.d.).

References

Blackenship, Mark. 2007. “Deep Down in the Subway Swipe Again: [Review].” New York Times, Late Edition. January 22, 2007. Proquest. https://search-proquest-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/docview/236247330?accountid=14068.

Brown, Mary. 2001. “William Harris Papers.” Marymount Manhattan College, https://www.mmm.edu/live/files/98-harrisguidepdf.

William B. Harris, review of Dutchman by LeRoi Jones, directed by Anita Khanzadian, Perry Street Theatre, New York, Publication Unknown (undated, probably February 1977).

Als, Hilton. “In Black and White: Amiri Baraka’s “Dutchman,” The New Yorker, February 5, 2007,  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/02/05/in-black-and-white-3 .

Perry Street Theatricals. n.d. Perry Street Theatre- A Brief History. Accessed March 11, 2019. https://pstheatricals.com/about-pst/.

Salem, James M. 1984. A Guide to Critical Reviews: American Drama, 1909-1982. United States: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. https://books.google.com/books?id=mGRflyN__ZYC&pg=PA46&lpg=PA46&dq=the+dutchman+at+the+perry+street+theater&source=bl&ots=0uQLOE-Cks&sig=ACfU3U3DjBps1VDmKPb46SKrGyBVc4njCg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj52YDA1frgAhWmTt8KHQcfCb8Q6AEwBXoECA4QAQ#v=onepage&q=the%20dutchman%20at%20the%20perry%20street%20theater&f=false.

Simonson, Robert. 2006. Greenwich Village’s Perry Street Theatre to Close in July. Playbill. May 8, 2006. http://www.playbill.com/article/greenwich-villages-perry-street-theatre-to-close-in-july-com-132467.

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