Printer Friendly

Sally's Rape: Robbie McCauley's Survival Art.

In the climactic scene of Sally's Rape, African-American performance artist Robbie McCauley stands naked on an auction block, encouraging spectators to bid on her body, while she describes the sale and repeated sexual abuse of her great-great-grandmother, a slave. [1] As several feminist performance theorists have noted, this particularly vivid image of McCauley crystallizes key issues in our discourse, such as the display of the black female body, narratives of historical revision, and the centrality of identity, despite its various contingencies. [2] In this scene of bodily spectacle, as in her more subtly crafted dialogue, how does McCauley manage to reclaim her body from the inscriptions which have persistently haunted representations of women of color: the exotic other, white-man's pawn, tragic victim? Using black cultural studies and feminist performance theory, I will discuss how McCauley creates a space for self-representation, for emotional and intellectual reflection on a painful past, for talking back to the history of victimization, and dismantling the structures of stereotype. [3]

Sally's Rape is a social experiment in which Robbie McCauley, an African-American female performance artist, performs the black female subject out of victimization. Like any social or theatrical experiment, the results are rather inconceivable to gauge. However, according to my own reception, and that of other spectators, my evaluation is optimistic. McCauley's contribution to the emerging black female theatrical subject is her development of an anti-racist, heuristic performance mode(l). She inherits a tradition of black performance which is both politically and mimetically sophisticated, expanding it to express the often obscured experience of gender. McCauley's performance experiments demonstrate a black female subject bearing witness to the confluent demons of racism and sexism in representation as well as in everyday life. In this essay, I will explicate McCauley's key heuristic tools--revision, embodiment, and dialogue--in the performance text of Sally's Rape.

Sally's Rape shares the theme of survival with two other performance pieces, usually grouped under the series title "Confessions of a Working Class Black Woman." Since the mid-1980s, McCauley has performed this series as works-in-progress, all of which center on stories from her family history. The first, My Father and the Wars, concerns McCauley's relationship with her father, and his life in military service. Indian Blood, part two, focuses on her Native-American grandfather's participation in the genocide of his own people. In the third piece, Sally's Rape, McCauley shifts her focus to the experiences of women in her family. Each performance is about an ancestor's survival, but also about how McCauley tells their stories in painfully acute enactments which demonstrate the surviving impact of past events on present racial conflicts. [4]

Sally's Rape: Stories, Enactments, Conversation

Describing Sally's Rape is difficult, not only because of the intensity of the material but also because the performance text has varied greatly over the course of several years. It is now available in an anthology of plays by African-American women, but this published version was transcribed from a single event and cannot represent the many variations of this work-in-progress. Its inclusion in an anthology is important, however, because it will allow the play to reach a much wider audience, offering a powerful representation of the black female subject in an interrogation of American culture.

McCauley and her white co-performer Jeannie Hutchins draw on prior discussions and workshops for the dialogue in Sally's Rape. Working from pre-determined themes and scenarios, the text leaves room for the two women to improvise dialogue, shift the sequence of episodes, and interact with spectators. This flexibility gives the piece a sense of immediacy and experimentation, keeping it vital and fresh at each venue. Three basic elements provide the framework which has remained constant: a running conversation between McCauley and Hutchins, McCauley's storytelling, and scenes from the stories acted out by the two of them.

The running conversation between Hutchins and McCauley is the thread which holds Sally's Rape together. It opens with the two women, acting as themselves, having a friendly chat over tea. Throughout the piece, their dialogue fluctuates between friendly banter, tension over racial difference, and concentrated struggles for understanding. They share recollections of their vastly different childhoods, touching on religion, their emerging personal politics, and awareness of racial segregation. As their dialogue wanders, and the women blithely interrupt each other, it appears that they are not listening to one another so much as they are projecting their discussion out to the audience. They seem to have engaged each other on these topics many times and now wish to invite spectators to listen in, as witnesses to the similarities and differences in the life experiences of a black and a white woman. Their dialogue is offered as a model of an active struggle to communicate across the often tricky minefield of inter-r acial discourse.

Sally's Rape is technically a duet, then, rather than a solo performance piece. Yet McCauley is credited with authorship, and it is clearly she who controls the narrative. In the first beat of dialogue, Hutchins states, "And I know it's not about me, but it's about you and I'm in it," to which McCauley replies, "It's my story, and you're in it because I put you in it" (219). The dominance of McCauley is primarily a function of her ownership of the stories which gave her the impetus for Sally's Rape. McCauley, a consummate storyteller, draws on family lore for the primary tale of Sally, her great-great-grandmother, who endured the trauma of hard physical labor and sexual abuse, both before and after the official emancipation of slaves. Sally's story is interwoven, often cryptically, with events in the lives of McCauley, other ancestors, and various other black women. One of these women is Sally Hemings--the slave and supposed "mistress" of Thomas Jefferson. [5] While the subject of McCauley's story at any giv en moment may appear ambiguous, the spectator is drawn into its narrative, feeling the intense personal connection McCauley shares with each story.

At specific times, McCauley and Hutchins suddenly assume roles and enact a brief moment from one of the stories. The change is often indicated by a quick shift of the sparse scenery: benches, chairs, a table, and (sometimes) large rocks. McCauley typically assumes the role of protagonist, while Hutchins plays white characters, such as Mrs. Jefferson and a slave dealer. Occasionally, Hutchins will take on the role of a black character. These echoes of minstrelsy add another level of representation to the piece, keeping spectators mindful of the play of racial signs that have (dis)graced American cultural history.

Sally's Rape employs a myriad of acting styles, as I will note throughout the essay. The women's use of a bold and bawdy presentational style, incorporating cross-racial role-play, harkens back to nineteenth-century popular entertainment, particularly the minstrel shows. [6] The Thomas Jefferson-slave duet mentioned above is one such example. As we will see, McCauley and Hutchins also shift to more Brechtian-inflected technique, inviting social critique. The sparse scenic arrangement augments the sense of social experimentation, both in terms of the stage space and the audience configuration. Spectators may wonder at different times: Are we at a carnival? a consciousness-raising? a town meeting? Then, there are acting choices which evoke the trademarks of dramatic realism, despite the fragmented narrative, as suggested by the empathetic identification evident in spectator response I record later in this essay.

Revising Victimhood

The title, Sally's Rape, draws primary attention to the trauma of the black female body, its repeated rape in the figurative and literal sense over centuries of oppressive history. Yet, with this piece, McCauley fulfills the criteria envisioned by Homi Bhabha for an art which embodies "a spirit and technique of survival" over that of victimization (20). Bhabha explains that the aesthetic function of a survival art is a tricky thing, for it must recognize the dual apparatus of cessation and continuance. Trauma creates a cessation of identity, culture, and tradition; continuance is living through and responding to that trauma. Survival art aestheticizes this constant "re-traumatizing," not to offer transcendence or simple resolution, but to stimulate an immediacy of emotional and intellectual response. McCauley fashions out of rape and slavery an art of survival, one in which she continually revisits the site of trauma in order to imagine new perspectives on its impact.

McCauley chooses performance as her means of surviving trauma, using her words and her body to revise black female subjectivity, performing herself and her link to black cultural traditions back into existence after their cessation. Elin Diamond describes the political efficacy of such performance: "Where signifying (meaningful) acts may enable new subject positions and new perspectives to emerge, even the performative present contests the conventions and assumptions of oppressive cultural habits" (Performance 6).

As a black female solo performer, McCauley follows in the tradition of Beah Richards' A Black Woman Speaks (1950). Both women succeed in carving out a space for representation of black female subjectivity outside the conventions of character and plot, emphasizing the political potential of their art. As Diamond writes, "Refusing the conventions of role-playing, the performer presents herself/himself as a sexual, permeable, tactile body" (Performance 3). There is, however, a great deal of role-play occurring between McCauley and Hutchins in Sally's Rape, although neither actress is limited to the perspective of a single character. [7] Other elements which McCauley and Richards also share are the expression of anger and a sophisticated critique of history in their performances.

In the 1990s, the number of black women performing solo has multiplied, yet challenging, angry voices like McCauley's are still rarely heard in mainstream American culture, although sorely needed. Their words are still raging radically against the machine of white supremacist culture. In the words of bell hooks, they follow in the tradition of black performance which encourages "collective black political self-recovery, in both the process of decolonisation and the imagining and construction of liberatory identities" (220). What is at stake in Sally's Rape is survival-revising history, battling with insufficient language and tired images, and getting down to honest dialogue in a hopeful ritual of transforming racial consciousness.

McCauley's strategy of revision begins with the act of self-representation, restoring agency to the black female subject position. The notion of narrative itself is constantly revised in Sally's Rape. Unlike a traditional fixed script, McCauley's performance text is a site of experimentation, interactivity, and improvisation, all of which privilege a multiplicity of often disharmonious perspectives on race and gender over a singular authorial voice. Keeping the piece in a constant evolutionary state, as McCauley does, has allowed for dramatic variation in the text.

Once the scene of the tense, yet polite, conversation about racial difference has been established, the performers break the narrative of this conversation by addressing the audience and enlisting their response. They divide the house into three groups, two of which are coached to shout either affirmative or negative responses. The other section of the audience is encouraged to chime in their opinions on the action, while McCauley maintains the role of conductor, signaling the groups to jump in at specific moments. This allows the audience to participate in the performance text, while McCauley is able to play off their contributions, taking cues front their feedback to segue into a relevant story or new theme.

The revision of audience expectations goes beyond modernist theatrical tricks of enlisting participation. Sally's Rape also allows for an ambiguous relationship between form and performance context. The different racial demographics of each performance venue have a direct impact on the performance text, not only in terms of the signification of context, but on the content of the narrative. Spectator responses have run the gamut: angry disputations of Hutchins's words, confessions of white guilt (or charges of being manipulated into such a stance), questions about McCauley's use of nudity, sharing of personal experiences of racism and/or sexual assault, all of which McCauley attempts to elucidate without suggesting resolution. [8] McCauley's intent is to "create an event for the audience to come into around this oppression," an opportunity to spark people to talk, and to listen, about these difficult issues (McCauley, qtd. in Patraka 26). Perhaps Sally's Rape speaks to the general appreciation audiences have for honest debate, alternatives to the options in current media. Somewhere along the slate from silence to ingenuous efforts, success stories, and failed programs, and on to stories of outright racist insurgency, there is an abundance of media coverage, but few opportunities for dialogue.

The narrative gaps in Sally's Rape generate a sense of immediacy and reciprocity, which, unlike the easily commodified results of mass art, cultivates in the local community a critical, liberatory consciousness, even as it reaches out to them (see hooks 218-19). The local significations of Sally's Rape are also linked to this broader perspective of cultural consciousness in another very innovative way. Within the actual performance text, McCauley and Hutchins often comment on the differing reception of the piece throughout its run, contrasting, for example, the different class and racial constituents of audiences in Boston and Brooklyn. In this act of self-reflexivity, the history of the show and the dialogue on racial difference which it has evoked become part of its narrative. This multi-vocality increases the number of divergent perspectives the piece is able to represent, extending the text beyond the limits of a single performance event.

Equipped with her desire to represent a complex black female subjectivity within a flexible narrative form, McCauley applies her strategy of revision to the topic of history. By privileging oral history over the traditional text of American history, she attempts to restore connections to the past which have been traumatically interrupted by racial oppression. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., speaks to the damage done by racist ideology of Western Enlightenment philosophy, wherein cultures without written languages, or those existing in a colonized state prohibiting written expression, were dismissed as peoples without the memory or awareness necessary to construct a cultural history (see Gates 1-20). By validating stories passed down from generations of a black family, Sally's Rape explodes the myth of a lack of or an apathy for chronicled history among black people.

Sally is endowed with the agency to speak of her oppression, providing memories to be recalled by future new generations. The complex relationship between history and memory is certainly not unique to 1980s post-modern performance, although the slippage of the terms at the end of the twentieth century has accelerated. From an academic perspective, history may still seem the more foundational. Pierre Nora writes that "the remnants of experience still lived in the warmth of tradition, in the silence of custom, in the repetition of the ancestral, have been displaced under the pressure of a fundamentally historical sensibility" (7). Within this displacement, or what Homi Bhabha calls trauma, McCauley's performance participates in the slippage of history and memory, bringing us nearer to the memories.

Throughout the piece, McCauley tells Sally's story, switching occasionally from the third- to the first-person. She describes how Sally lived under the constant condition of sexual abuse and bore the master several children. After she was freed, Sally continued to endure hard physical labor and sexual assault in order to secure land and a home for her children. As McCauley describes the life of her ancestor, she seems to be overtaken by the urgency of her story. Her outrage cannot be expressed in mere words; it propels her body through the space, as she paces back and forth at an intense 6/8 rhythm, remembering the shameful experiences of Sally and other women in her family, remembering suffering.

But memory, alone, is insufficient in the art of survival, according to Bhabha, who stresses that the artist must keep alive the dialectic of cessation and continuance, that merely to enact a remembrance of the trauma is to fixate only on cessation. McCauley tells stories about slavery to demonstrate its fallout--the structures of racial domination and assimilation which continue into the present. These stories, and the continual reenactment and reformation of them, drive the piece. Moments of ironic insight materialize when past and present are juxtaposed. For example, when Hutchins confesses, "I sold slaves when I worked at the Welfare Department" (227), we are forced to consider the possibility of complicity on the part of white liberals in continuing social inequity today. Clever, loaded statements like these come fast, however, and the piece moves on, preventing charged issues from being expanded upon or challenged. Instead the issues accrue as the evening goes on, barraging the spectator with the many facets of racial discourse, an effect made possible by the text's permeability of the usual barrier between past and present.

McCauley's version of events is revised to accommodate this backward and forward motion, eschewing the linearity of history. She does not merely posit a new meta-narrative--any single version of events--in favor of the old, but merges the stories. The story-fragments are often ambiguous, cryptic, blurring the identity of the subject, broken into pieces and shifted about. Within one scene, she suddenly raises the topic of Sally Hemings--"Do you think Thomas took his Sally to European tea rooms?"--then launches into a song--"Grandma Sally had two children by the master" (228-29). The connection between the two Sallys later becomes clearer when McCauley says, "They say Sally had dem chillun by the massa like it was supposed to a been something. Shit, Thomas' Sally was just as much a slave as our grandma and it was just as much a rape. One Sally's rape by the massa no gooder n'an n'othern" (232). Again, McCauley points to connections across time, joining the two Sallys across two centuries, and asserting her own agency to stand and speak of the common threads of their oppression.

This telling of black women's history, discontinuous and multiple, is constantly revised to include divergent experiences, and continually rewritten in each performance. It allows McCauley to represent a broader range of black women's experiences, making connections across history from slave women to sharecroppers, domestics to welfare mothers, and so on. "Sally," then, becomes a composite of all these women, and McCauley acts as their storyteller, embodying their experiences of rape and racial oppression as her own.

Embodying the Shame

Along with revision, embodiment is the second strategy which McCauley employs in her survival aesthetic. McCauley uses her body as the primary text of Sally's Rape, conscious of the ways her body comes into the space of performance--marked by her race and gender, already scripted by centuries of stereotypes and objectification. Diamond elucidates the function of embodiment in performance art: "With its focus on embodiment (the body's social text), it promotes a heightened awareness of cultural difference, of historical specificity of sexual preference, of racial and gender boundaries and transgressions" (4). In the words of Raewyn Whyte, McCauley's body, as her medium of articulation, is "saturated with memories of sensual experience, and [is] a text written by racism and bounded by family, history, and gender" (277).

The most vivid example of embodiment occurs in the auction block scene. This episode, which comes about halfway through the piece, is generally regarded as the climactic moment, and the image remains in the spectator's imagination long after experiencing Sally's Rape. Without any preamble, McCauley removes her clothing and stands on a table before the audience in order to portray herself as a slave for sale. Hutchins, acting as auctioneer, coaxes the often reluctant audience to chant "Bid 'em in," while McCauley stands on display. Over the chanting, McCauley shouts to be heard while she describes the sale of Sally: "This is what they brought us here for. On the auction block. They put their hands all down our bodies--to sell you, for folks to measure you, smeltcha ..." (230). Rebecca Schneider describes the visceral image: "As if history itself had invisible fingers, McCauley is probed (she flinches) and poked (she winces)" (174).

When McCauley displays herself naked, vulnerable, on the auction block, casting spectators into the position of the gazing colonizers, she makes explicit the historical operations of desire, fetishism, and commodification of slave women. [9] As McCauley's private body becomes public spectacle, the image of the naked black woman for sale resonates disturbingly with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century iconography of black female sexuality, such as the "Hottentot Venus" and "The Babylonian Marriage Market." Sander Gilman describes how these images of black women fractured the black woman into a serialization of sexual parts, fortifying the construction of "anthropology," "science," and other structures which relied on visual display to effect ideological control of women's bodies (see Gilman 223-61).

Centuries of racist iconography haunt the figure of McCauley in the spotlight. The emphasis on her body, through its display, and her description of acts of abuse inflicted on the slave woman's body turn the focus of the performance to the physical experience of racist oppression. McCauley shifts attention from the intellectual knowledge of slavery, sexual abuse, and the objectification mediated through the telling of stories to an embodied knowledge. Later on in the performance, when McCauley coaxes Hutchins to reverse historical roles and mount the auction block, Hutchins's inability to comply demonstrates that she does not embody the same knowledge, that her investment in disrupting the history of oppression is not the same as McCauley's.

Unlike the real Sally on the auction block, or the "Hottentot Venus," McCauley is the agent of her own representation. Just as it appears that she may be swallowed up by the mechanisms of the gaze--desire, fetishization, colonization--McCauley breaks the action, as if to remind the audience that she is still in control. Hutchins stops the chant, the lights come up, and McCauley covers her body. She explains to the audience that she "wanted to do this--stand naked in public on the auction block." With this line, McCauley reasserts her agency by interrupting the commodifying gaze. She continues, "I thought somehow it could help free us from this" (referring to her naked body). "Any old socialist knows, one can't be free till all are free" (231).

In her recent analysis of slave narratives, Saidiya V. Hartman approaches the issue of black women's agency from a different perspective. [10] From historical and literary documents about the slave trade, Hartman has unearthed scenes of outright antagonism. Some women refused to be compliant participants in their debasement, finding ways to interrupt their spectators' sickening enjoyment, and openly rejecting the master who would "make her his gal." Hartman gives us the example of a slave named Sukie who shouted threats of castration and violently exposed herself to onlookers. Hartman describes this moment as a deconstructive performance in itself: "This revolt, staged at the site of enjoyment and the nexus of production and reproduction, exposes the violence of the trade spectacle" (41). With her desire to create a changed social consciousness within our contemporary moment, McCauley harkens back to Sukie and Sally and every other black woman who raged at the instruments of their oppression.

McCauley's actions are, of course, part of a staged re-enactment, but her evocation of ritual elements compels spectators to hear the stories of her ancestors in ways that literary narratives cannot. With this in mind, I return our attention to the auction block scene. McCauley had abruptly stopped enacting the trade of Sally, put her dress back on, and spoken directly to the audience, another moment inspired by Brechtian theater. Scarcely is the audience allowed a sigh of relief from the chanting trade ritual, when the lights are lowered and McCauley resumes the enactment. She shifts from the sale of Sally to her rape. Curling down on the block, McCauley experiences Sally's rape on her own body as she does in a recurring nightmare. Paralyzed with fear and humiliation, she repeats over and over: "I am Sally being done it to ... bound down on the ground ... being done it to" (231). Once again, past and present converge, as the rape of slave women becomes a contemporary reality, a painful wound in the American psyche which needs to be addressed in the name of healing. McCauley's body is the site of this convergence, begging the question, What exactly does one do with the layers of shame and anger built up over generations, and with the ways that they surface when one is confronted with scenes of brutality in everyday life?

The next episode, entitled "In a Rape Crisis Center," allows McCauley to continue on the topic of rape, further complicating it by contrasting different perspectives on its racial dimensions. One spectator, a woman who heads a Louisville Women's Center, responded that the piece realistically acknowledges the different issues around rape for black and white women. Whereas white women often focus on the issue of prevention, on how to keep themselves safe from rape, black women come out of a history of systematic rape legitimized by the institution of slavery. [11]

Hutchins, curled up on a bench, portrays a traumatized rape victim at a crisis center. She is comforted by women who give her tea and counsel her to release any feelings of responsibility for the act. McCauley, on the other hand, tells of slave women who endured rape as a way of life, and the bitter acceptance of their bodies as breeding machines in the economy of slavery. McCauley rages against the sheer normalcy of the rape scenario, fighting to reclaim the body of the black woman from its status as mere chattel, stripping away centuries of shame. Hartman, in her book, reminds us that the category of "womanhood" was clearly inaccessible to female slaves, neither the law nor common standards of morality provided black women any protection against sexual violation (99-101). Both McCauley and Hutchins decry the pain and degradation of rape, yet their stories resonate differently against the historical, political, and personal contexts which separate the experiences. As McCauley says, "Ain't no rape crisis cen ter on the plantation." The scene ends with Hutchins's reply hanging in the air: "Then what do you do about it?" (233).

With amazing clarity, this moment conveys the devastating effects of rape, both on the individual psyche and as a collective trauma. The friction between Robbie/Sally's story of rape and Jeannie's is not just the difference between past and present rapes, but the difference between institutionalized and individual instances of rape. Sally's legacy of bitterness is made all the more horrific in the face of the continuing victimization of women--in a culture which periodically blames women for their own abuse. The fact that the rape counselors find it necessary to stress that Hutchins's rape was not her own fault points to the pervasive, pre-existing condition of blaming the rape victim (see Thompson 123-39). For me, as for many other spectators, the poignancy of the rape scene sticks in the throat. It testifies to the effect of the entire piece, exemplifying McCauley's objective of "find[ing] beautiful ways to express hard feelings" (McCauley, "Thoughts" 267).

The dissonance of the two rape stories also demonstrates the difficulty of coalition among women. Many of the issues about body acceptance, personal freedom, and self-esteem which women of color and white women share are intersected by the different histories we carry with us, complicating our relationships and our dialogues about race and gender.

Dialogue Across Difference

In addition to historical revision, and performative embodiment, dialogue is the third strategic device in McCauley's survival art. Generating honest and informed dialogue across racial differences is her ultimate goal. In the episode "A Moment in the Chairs," the two performers create a physical image of the frustration which underlies their constant struggle for dialogue. As they speak, the women sit face-to-face, holding hands and slowly pushing and pulling their arms back and forth, in a tense rowing motion.

The issues which surface are familiar conflicts in race relations, sore spots with which many spectators may identify. Hutchins expresses ambivalence about her position in their dialogue, as a white woman, and as McCauley's friend. She fears that her idealism may hinder her ability to get down to the truth. She feels unsettled in her attempts to generate new ways of bridging their differences. This constant state of instability which Hutchins describes is a familiar place for a white scholar like myself engaged in writing about racial issues in performance. "What upsets me," Hutchins states, "is there's an underlying assumption that you're gonna unmask me. That you're gonna get underneath something and pull it out. That you can see it and I can't.... Some kind of delusion, self-deception." McCauley responds: "What I want to know from you is: can you get under that place that I can see that you won't see?" "That's the work," she says, emphatically punctuating the episode. [12]

This conversation captures McCauley's intended theatrical activism. In the words of poet Audre Lorde, "The strength of women lies in recognizing differences between us as creative, and in standing to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter" (131). Sally's Rape shows us two women hard at work, attempting to connect on some level. Dialogue across difference, with all its baggage and misunderstandings, is both the subject of this work and the work that we must do, in the interest of survival. McCauley insists that dialogue is the key, that the continuing struggle to find the right language is an activist strategy, a possibility for transformation, an ongoing work-in-progress itself. Instead of positing a false resolution, she explores the tension of interracial conflict as a productive force to continually reinvigorate our dialogue about race and gender.

Ann E. Nymann is a Ph.D. candidate in Theatre Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work focuses on the representations of women in the era of blackface minstrelsy.

Notes

(1.) Sally's Rape appears in Moon Marked and Touched by Sun: Plays by African-American Women. For inclusion in this anthology, Sally's Rape was transcribed from one of the November 1991 performances at The Kitchen in New York City. References to dialogue in this performance appear parenthetically in the text. A different "dialogue scenario" for Sally's Rape is available in Black Theatre U.S.A.: Plays by African Americans, The Recent Period, 1935-Today, rev. ed., eds. James V. Hatch and Ted Shine (New York: Free P, 1996), 368-75.

(2.) For the primary feminist analyses of Sally's Rape, see Diamond; Patraka; Schneider; and Whyte.

(3.) A previous version of this paper was presented at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education in Chicago on August 6, 1997, on a panel entitled "Victim's Rites: Disability, Possibility, and Performance." I wish to thank several colleagues for their contributions of their emotional, intellectual, and editorial support, particularly Carrie Sandahl, Sally Banes, Patty Gallagher, Vicki Patraka, and Travis Koplow.

(4.) Sally's Rape premiered in December of 1989 at PS 122 in New York City. From there, it played at BACA in Brooklyn, The Kitchen, and City College-Davis Center in Manhattan. In 1992 it received an OBIE Award for Best Play. McCauley took the piece on the road to the Boston Women's Festival and the American Festival Project in Louisville, and on a tour of the Southwest, in 1993. Segments of the performance have also been featured in two film documentaries on women performers: Sphinxes Without Secrets by Maria Beatty and Conjure Women by Demetria Royals. For the most complete listing on McCauley's compositions and performances, see Patraka's "Performance Production History" (52-53).

(5.) Jeffersonian scholars have ardently debated the rumored relationship between Jefferson and Hemings--a relationship which recent DNA testing would appear to have confirmed. For example, see Fawn Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An intimate History (New York: Norton, 1974) and Virginius Dabney, The Jefferson Scandals: A Rebuttal (New York: Dodd, 1981). The 1979 novel Sally Hemings, by Barbara Chase-Riboud, and her sequel The President's Daughter (1994), along with the recent film Jefferson in Paris, have brought the story greater popular attention. For further information on the historiographical tradition of defending Jefferson's reputation, see Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1997). In any case, I use the term "mistress" to indicate the problematic application of such a romantic term given the inherently unbalanced power dynamics between slave and master.

(6.) The traditions and stereotypes from blackface minstrelsy carried over into the twentieth century through vaudeville, musical theatre, radio, film, and television, as many readers are aware. The topic of minstrelsy has received renewed attention within theatre and performance studies. Some of the more engaging titles I recommend are: Mel Watkins, On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying, and Signifying--The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor That Transformed American Culture, from Slavery to Richard Pryor (New York: Simon, 1994); Dale Cockrell, Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997); and a compilation of contemporaneous and recent essays edited by Annemarie Bean, James V. Hatch, and Brooks MoNamara entitled Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy (Hanover: UP of New England, 1996).

(7.) In the years between these two plays there are certainly examples of realistic drama by black playwrights in which the black female subject is allowed to develop complexity and depth. The works of Lorraine Hansberry and Alice Childress offer perhaps the best and most often-performed examples by women authors. However, non-realistic pieces such as those by Amiri Baraka, ntozake shange, Adrienne Kennedy, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Anna Deavere Smith continue to challenge spectators to look differently at the roles that have been "handed down" to black characters from the dominant theatrical establishment.

(8.) For examples of spectator responses, see Carr 200-08; Rosenfeld; and Sommers; and see McCauley's comments in Royals's documentary film Conjure Women, Hershaw, and Patraka.

(9.) Schneider addresses McCauley and other women artists whose work makes explicit the ideologies behind representational structures.

(10.) I highly recommend this dense, thorough, and thought-provoking examination of patterns in the narrativization of slavery and how they extended beyond Emancipation and Reconstruction into the Gilded Age.

(11.) See the quotation by Judy Jennings in Rosenfeld.

(12.) This line is spoken in the version of Sally's Rape which appears in Royals's Conjure Women, and not in the performance recorded in Moon Marked and Touched by Sun. The same intention is expressed in the former version, but it was more clearly articulated during the performance captured on video.

Works Cited

Acocella, Joan. Rev, of Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Allan Kaprow. Art in America 82.6 (1994): 33.

Bhabha, Homi K. "On Victim Art: Dance This Diss Around." Artforum Apr. 1995: 19-20.

Carr, C. On Edge: Performance at the End of the Century. Hanover: UP of New England, 1993.

Croce, Arlene. "Discussing the Undiscussable." New Yorker 24 Dec. 1994-2 Jan. 1995: 54-60.

Diamond, Elm. Performance and Cultural Politics. London: Routledge, 1996.

--. Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theater. London: Routledge, 1997.

Gates, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed. "Race," Writing, and Difference. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Gilman, Sander. "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature." Gates 223-61,

Hartigan, Patti. "Finding Common Ground Onstage; 'Turf' Draws in Audience to Break the Dangerous Silence on Issues of Race." Boston Globe 5 Mar. 1993: 61.

Hartman, Saidiya V. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.

Hershaw, Craig. "Thought Music: An Interview with Robbie McCauley." P-form 25 (1992): 5-6. hooks, bell. Performance Practice as a Site of Opposition." Let's Get It On: The Politics of Black Performance. Ed. Catherine Ugwu. Seattle: Bay P, 1995. 210-21.

Howell, John. Rev, of Indian Blood by Robbie McCauley. Artforum Jan. 1988: 120-21.

Lorde, Audre. "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism." Sister Outsider. Trumansburg: Crossing P, 1984. 124-33.

McCauley, Robbie. Sally's Rape. Moon Marked and Touched by Sun: Plays by African-American Women. Ed. Sydne Mahone. New York: TCG, 1994. 211-38.

--. "Thoughts on My Career, The Other Weapon, and Other Projects." Diamond, Performance 266-67.

Nora, Pierre. "Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire." Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 7-25.

Patraka, Vicki. "Robbie McCauley: Obsessing in Public." Drama Review 37.2 (1993): 25-55.

Richards, Beah. A Black Woman Speaks. Nine Plays by Black Women. Ed. Margaret B. Wilkerson. New York: Mentor, 1986. 29-39.

Rosenfeld, Megan. "Spectators at Stage Center: McCauley Makes Audience Part of Her Performance." Washington Post 5 May 1994: D2.

Schneider, Rebecca. The Explicit Body in Performance. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Sommers, Pamela. "'Sally's Rape': Searing Talk About Racism." Washington Post 6 May 1994: B4.

Thompson, Deborah. "Blackface, Rape, and Beyond: Rehearsing Interracial Dialogue in Sally's Rape." Theatre Journal 48 (May 1996): 123-39.

Whyte, Raewyn. "Robbie McCauley: Speaking History Other-Wise." Acting Out: Feminist Performances. Eds. Lynda Hart and Peggy Phelan. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993. 277-93.
COPYRIGHT 1999 African American Review
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:NYMANN, ANN E.
Publication:African American Review
Date:Dec 22, 1999
Words:6114
Previous Article:Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: Folklore, Folkloristics, and African American Literary Criticism.
Next Article:Speaking in Tongues: An Interview with Science Fiction Writer Nalo Hopkinson.
Topics:


Related Articles
Bowen McCauley Dance.
Black Theatre USA: Plays By African Americans, 2 vols.
Treatment for survivors of rape: issues and interventions. (Practice).

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters