Talk (play)

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Talk is an Obie award winning play written by Carl Hancock Rux, first produced at the Joseph Papp Public Theater New York Shakespeare Festival in 2002.

Production History[edit]

The play was initially workshopped at the Sundance Institute in Utah and premiered at the Joseph Papp Public Theater (co-produced by the Foundry Theater, Melanie Joseph, producing, artistic director) directed by Marion McClinton with a cast that included Anthony Mackie, Maria Tucci, Karen Kandel, James Himelsbach, John Seitz and Reg E. Cathey; directed by Marion McClinton; set by James Noone; costumes by Toni-Leslie James; lighting by James L. Vermeulen; video, Marilys Ernst; sound by Tim Schellenbaum; dramaturge, Jocelyn Clarke; production stage manager, Scott Pegg; production manager, Jody Kuh; assistant stage manager, Neelam Vaswani.

Synopsis & Themes[edit]

The play parodies a panel discussion, regarding the identity of an enigmatic (fictional) writer named Archer Aymes decades after his death, formed to debate Aymes's life and work. The play explores themes of mixed race as both an aesthetic challenge and a social concern, gesturing toward a poetics of social justice for the “mulatto millennium” as well as art as both social memory and cultural production. The play is influenced by Euripides' play The Bacchae, held in the ruins of a museum of Greek antiquities, and has characters inspired by the Socratic dialogues (Phaedo, Crito, Meno, Apollodoros, and Ion) written by Plato, which attempts to determine the definition of virtue and the meaning of art. TALK also delves heavily in theoretical arguments regarding the reading of performativity as interdisciplinary concepts [1] by examining the works of André Breton, Clay Felker, Mark Van Doren, Jonas Mekas, James Baldwin, Wayne Shorter, Jack Kerouac, Maya Deren and Robert Giroux (among others) [2] with film clips from an alleged unfinished film by the author, shown and narrated by one of his collaborators.


Early in the play, a woman (Apollodoros) exhibits to the audience ancient Greek amphora painted with scenes from The Bacchae, and introduces the architectural history of the play's setting (the Museum of Antiquities), alluding to the death of an unidentified woman some years earlier. The Moderator proceeds to read an excerpt from Mother and Son, a "novel by Archer Aymes", then welcomes the audience into the "curious room of forgetting what had been remembered" (both a complaint about forgetfulness, since the play revolves remembering a forgotten artist, and a call to action that requires letting go of moribund or memorialized Truths). Introducing five invited panelists, and one uninvited guest (Apollodoros) who unexpectedly insists she be included as a participant in the conference (even though she elects to sit apart from the others), quietly observing and occasionally interrupting the proceedings with remarks of intentional ambiguity as she serves food and wine to the panelists. In the course of the play, the audience learns Archer Aymes became an overnight literary sensation for his first book, Mother and Son during in the age of the Beat poets and the McCarthy era. Ten years later he was found dead in a prison cell.[3]


In the The New York Times Margo Jefferson wrote "Carl Hancock Rux's dazzling new play Talk takes us back to the golden age when the panel was the best theater of ideas around. There's an intellectual riot going on in New York, and we're part of it. History matters. Art matters. High ideals and monstrous ambitions are at stake. So is the nature of truth. (Whose truth?) We laugh at the in-jokes and pick up the dropped names (Kerouac, Vidal, Maya Deren, Godard, Wayne Shorter, John Lee Hooker). We switch sides, play games of deference and one-upmanship with each panelist. For them, it's a fight to the social or psychic death. For us, it's suspense and excitement.The occasion is this: a lost writer of the 1950s (fictional) has been found...He was tormented by fame and by the struggle between art and politics. He turned his novel, Mother and Son, into an avant-garde film, led a demonstration at a museum and, when it turned violent, went to jail and died there, probably a suicide. His reputation languished until the eager young Moderator (played by Anthony Mackie) found his novel in dusty basement archives.The panel is set in a mythic Museum of Antiquities...with a backdrop of blue sky that can take on the color of red dust or of night. Ancient statues and vases lie about. And there are words, the words of artists and philosophers, across the floor and up the steps of the theater. In three vehement hours, Talk roams through the 1950s and 60's: the cold war, Abstract Expressionism, jazz, New Wave films, the civil rights movement, rebel intellectuals, Vietnam, and the media—as it converts all of this into marketable or unmarketable art and history.We argue, too, in our heads about aesthetics, the meaning of race and of civilization when its discontents become brutal punishments. What are the possibilities for transformation? Mr. Rux has given Talk an elaborate classical frame. The ancient still resonates. Mr. Rux's ideas have the urgency and passion of actions. He draws on satire, rhetoric, naturalism (the kind, Strindberg said, that seeks out the points where great battles take place), and poetry." [4]

In print[edit]

Theatre Communications Group has published the script. Talk began stocking in stores July 1, 2003.


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  3. ^ Signatures of the Past: Cultural Memory in Contemporary Anglophone North American Drama, edited by Marc Maufort, Caroline De Wagter; p. 83, Race and Cultural Memory in Carl Hancock Rux's Talk by Michele Elam
  4. ^