Black (play)

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Black is a full-length play by Joyce Carol Oates first published in Twelve Plays (1991) and reprinted in The Perfectionist and Other Plays (1995). Together with I Stand Before You Naked, Tone Clusters, Ontological Proof of My Existence and Bad Girls, Black is one of Oates's most frequently performed plays. The prose version of Black appeared in Witness in 1989. A revised version of the play with the title Cry Me a River was first performed in 1997.

Outline of the plot[edit]

Set in a middle class living room in New Jersey, the play explores the potentially lethal triangular relationship between a white woman, her white ex-husband, and her African American lover.

Jonathan Boyd is a 35-year-old photojournalist who, after months abroad, calls on his ex-wife Debra and her new boyfriend Lew Claybrook, ostensibly to fetch some boxes full of his old things. In reality, however, Boyd has come to his former home to lure his attractive ex-wife away from her black lover and reunite with her. At first the trio are quite good at keeping up appearances, but as the evening progresses the pretence at politeness gives way to the expression of raw, undisguised emotions.

Boyd's racism is veiled, if thinly, by his frequent assertions that he considers all Americans equal and that he is glad that Claybrook, a Yale graduate, has benefited from affirmative action. Time and again, however, he insults his ex-wife's lover by unwittingly perpetuating racial stereotypes. Claybrook eventually releases his bottled-up anger when Boyd wrongly "accuses" him of breeding pit bulls and when he realizes that not even Debra understands him:

Shut up! Look, the pit bulldog is a macho breed, black macho breed, got it? That what we're talkin' about? Huh? Baaaad macho breed of killer dog so black men get a charge walkin' the streets with 'em on leashes, sexy feelin', get it?—they give the word, the fucker's gonna tear somebody apart. Real baaad. [...]

You want the sociology, okay, I'll provide the sociology, fucking-A right, the pit bull helps com-pen-sate for the male nigger in America being a dog himself but not a killer dog, no way, man, just a runty ole mongrel dog not worth shit. You got it, honey? Like havin' a big cock's s'post to com-pen-sate for not havin' nothin'—including, in fact, the cock. Now you got it, honey? (Scene 6)

After being accused in return by Claybrook of exploiting the poor people in developing countries by taking their photos and then selling them ("that Third World-victim shit you're peddling [...] Don't hand me that shit, whitey"), Boyd takes out a revolver and starts threatening his hosts. In the end he calms down again and leaves with his boxes.


Read on[edit]

Love triangles[edit]

Deterioration of a dinner party[edit]

See also[edit]