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  • Shonni Enelow

In the climactic scene of James Baldwin's 1968 novel Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, the narrator and protagonist, Leo Proudhammer, appears with his friend and lover Barbara in the living room of a Jewish acting teacher named Saul San-Marquand, the artistic director of the Actors’ Means Workshop. Leo and Barbara have been hanging around the small town in New Jersey where the Workshop has decamped for the summer season. At last, they have been given their promised chance to perform a scene for Saul, who will decide on the basis of that scene whether or not they will be accepted as members of the Workshop. They have prepared a scene from Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty in which Flor and Sid, a young couple, break off their relationship under pressure from Flor's brother. Leo, who is black, and Barbara, who is white, have just admitted their love for each other; their impossible interracial relationship underlies the novel. When they arrive in Saul's apartment, they have just walked through town together to the obscene and threatening jeers of the white townspeople, validating their decision, made in bed hours earlier, that their relationship can never be public.

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1. Baldwin, James, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (New York: Dell, 1968), 221.

2. Ibid., 223.

3. Ibid., 228–30.

4. Campbell, James, Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 126–7.

5. Baldwin, James, Blues for Mister Charlie (New York: First Vintage International, 1995), xiiixv.

6. See Mario Puzo's painful review in The New York Times: “This is a simpleminded, one-dimensional novel with mostly cardboard characters, a polemical rather than narrative tone, weak invention and poor selection of incident.” Puzo, Mario, “Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone,” New York Times, 23 June 1968.

7. Campbell, 192–3.

8. Ibid., 196. See also Garfield, David, A Player's Place: The Story of the Actors Studio (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 230–3.

9. Campbell, 174.

10. Ibid., 127.

11. Ibid., 192.

12. Taubman, Howard, “Theater: ‘Blues for Mister Charlie,’” New York Times, 24 April 1964.

13. Zolotow, Sam, “$10,000 Reprieve for Mr. Charlie,” New York Times, 28 May 1964, 42.

14. Display Ad 41, New York Times, 28 May 1964, 43.

15. Weber, Samuel, Theatricality as Medium (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 255.

16. For an overview of Strasberg's Method and its midcentury career, see Scheeder, Louis, “Strasberg's Method and the Ascendancy of American Acting,” in Training of the American Actor, ed. Bartow, Arthur (New York: Theater Communications Group, 2006), 316. See also Krasner, David, ed., Method Acting Reconsidered: Theory, Practice, Future (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000). For a full analysis of Stanislavsky's system, see Whyman, Rose, The Stanislavsky System of Acting: Legacy and Influence in Modern Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

17. Singh, Nikhil Pal, Black Is a Country (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), introduction and chaps. 1 and 4.

18. Pitches, Jonathan, Science and the Stanislavsky System of Acting (New York: Routledge, 2006), 85; the quotation is originally from Boleslavsky's “Fundamentals of Acting,” Theatre Arts Monthly (February 1927).

19. Garfield, 58–9.

20. Strasberg, Lee, A Dream of Passion: The Development of the Method (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), 94122; idem, , Strasberg at The Actors Studio: Tape-Recorded Sessions, ed. Hethmon, Robert H. (New York: Viking Press, 1965), esp. 108–19; idem, , The Lee Strasberg Notes, ed. Cohen, Lola (New York: Routledge, 2010), 2636.

21. For an analysis of the controversy over the characterization of Richard, see Malburne, Meredith M., “No Blues for Mister Henry: Locating Richard's Revolution,” in Reading African American Drama: Fragments of History, Fragments of Self, ed. Harris, Trudier and Larson, Jennifer (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), 3957, quotation at 40.

22. Richards, Graham, “Race,” Racism and Psychology: Towards a Reflective History (London: Routledge, 1997), 68113.

23. Herman, Ellen, The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 199204. The report, issued by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Policy Planning and Research, was written by sociologist (later, U.S. Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

24. Ibid., 204.

25. Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie, 2. Subsequent citations from the script are given parenthetically in the text.

26. Patton, Cindy, Cinematic Identity: Anatomy of a Problem Film (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 14.

27. Ibid., 88.

28. Campbell, 196.

29. Ibid., 199.

30. Garfield, 242.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Garfield, 243.

34. Ibid., 242.

35. Roth, Philip, “Channel X: Two Plays on the Race Conflict,” New York Review of Books, 28 May 1964. Quoted in Campbell, 197.

36. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 148.

37. Her only line with adjectives is a line about God in “His icy, snow-white heaven” (94): supposedly “snow-white” God is the only particularized figure Baldwin uses.

38. Baldwin, Tell Me How Long, 264.

39. Baldwin was certainly referencing Paul Robeson's famous performance of Othello, which opened on Broadway in 1943. See Swindall, Lindsey R., The Politics of Paul Robeson's Othello (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010).

40. Stanislavski, Constantin, An Actor Prepares, trans. Hapgood, Elizabeth Reynolds (New York: Theater Arts, 1945), 2.

41. Ibid., 8–9, quotation at 9.

42. Ibid., 10.

43. Ibid., 26.

44. Patton, 3.

45. I am indebted to Una Chaudhuri for this formulation, which draws from Deleuze and Guattari's conception of “the coming collectivity.” See Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

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Theatre Survey
  • ISSN: 0040-5574
  • EISSN: 1475-4533
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-survey
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