Ariana DeBose Pays Tribute to John Guare at 92nd Street Y

John Guare
Before last night I had no idea of who John Guare was. I figured he was just another white man who had been privileged to receive all kinds of attention, success, wealth, and awards for being a white man. Last night I learned that he was the author of famous plays such as Six Degrees of Separation, House of Blue Leaves, Two Gentlemen of Verona, among others.

Ariana DeBose was one in a cast of more than two dozen actors including Meryl Streep, Ben Stiller, and Amy Herzog, et al, who performed scenes from Guare's many plays. As far as I was concerned, she was the biggest star on the stage. She presented a reading from Landscape of the Body, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She also sang a song from the play.

I wondered if many of the elderly white audience even knew who she was. If reminded, I'm sure they would recognize her as the Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story. But judging from the applause she received, it seemed the name recognition alone was not there. She was also one of the youngest people on stage.


While listening to the various scenes performed from various plays, it occurred to me that Guare is praised for writing about white American life. Some African Americans may be able to relate to some of the scenarios described in his work; but for the most part, I usually found myself shaking my head in annoyance at how privileged these characters were. The most insulting example of the playwright's arrogance is the portrayal of Will Smith's character in the film version of Six Degrees. The idea that a black man would spend countless hours memorizing names and details of celebrities and famous rich people, just so that he could be invited into the homes of wanna-be rich white people, is absolutely ludicrous. The play is about the white people, and not about the homeless gay black man who has to resort to extreme measures simply to survive.

(What's more, we all have seen how Will Smith's rage is just barely below the surface.)

Suzan-Lori Parks
I was happy to see Suzan-Lori Parks (who was the first female African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her play Topdog/Underdogalso participating in the tribute. She credited Guare with being a mentor and colleague, but she is also living proof of the fact that ya gotta be able to get along with the white folks if you're gonna receive any recognition or success in this business.

And speaking of black women who have to be able to get along with white folks, Ariana certainly fits the bill. She was raised by her single white mother, and had little or no contact with her black father. If she had been raised in a black family, chances are that we would not have heard of her. Don't get it twisted: I am a huge fan of Ariana's, and am so proud of her for her courage to "out" herself during her Oscar acceptance speech. I pray that she can survive in this dog-eat-dog world of showbusiness. She is immensely talented, and hopefully her star will continue to rise.

"... a queer afro-latina..."

                        

Nina Kennedy is a concert pianist, orchestral conductor, and award-winning filmmaker. She holds a master’s degree from the Juilliard School. Her memoir, Practicing for Love, is a 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist. The sequel, Practice What You Preach, is available at infemnity.com/shop.


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