The play The Waiting Room and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone are two plays set in a different place and time but have many similarities in their plot and characters because both plays represent the life of an African American search for identity. I experienced both plays differently. I saw The Waiting Room live and read Joe Wilson’s Come and Gone at the library. But regardless of how it was experienced, several similarities exist between this two plays. Maybe the plots of these two plays are not something that relates to my culture, but there is always something that makes all of the cultures alike. We are all take for granted what our ancestors have done for us until someone comes in and teach us a life lesson. This is what happens in the plays; Bynum and Uncle Tom’s role is that of reminding us of how to embrace our culture and teach us of whom we should be proud of.
The genders of these plays are drama (Joe Turner’s) and comedy (The Waiting Room), but their plot is somehow similar. Also, both of these plays are realistic. The Waiting Room uses realistic scenery that lives onstage just like Joe Turner’s might have had if it were produced at the Ensemble Theatre. In both plays, characters struggle with family issues; problems that the audience could relate to. For example, there were thousands of Africans Americans who moved to the north looking for a job, might have lost contact with their family members, might have had to pay a fee in order to keep their job, or who might have lost the love of their life; just like the boarding house customers. Now in this century, people still struggle with those same issues. Discrimination still exist somehow through stereotyping, families separate, people have to work extra to pay their rent, people have love problems, and people still struggle trying to find their mission in life.
African American theatre has always been surrounded by stereotypes. Stereotypes that once began with the minstrel shows and that still are the central theme of thousands of plays. Whether it is a drama or a comedy; whether is a boarding house or a hospital; whether there is family or friends; whether there are secrets or not; a real black play will always be written by a black person because only he/she knows the real deal of stereotypes. Sam-Art Williams and August Wilson must have dealt with stereotypes while searching for their own identity; their own style. Both plays represent the life of an African American. Just like Suzan-Lori Parks said in her New Black Math, they are written by a black person, have black actors, and involve or have a white actor. “A black play is written by a black person. A black play has black actors. A black play is written by a white person and has white actors…” (Parks)
However, African Americas have learned how to laugh at stereotypes because they know is difficult to eradicate them, but at the same time they know that those stereotypes are also exaggerated and often nonrealistic. Sam-Art Williams’ The Waiting Room and August Wilson’s Joe Wilson’s Come and Gone chronicles the life of African Americans. One chronicles the life of black people affected by slavery and the other chronicles the life of contemporary African Americans. These plays do talk about stereotypes but in a different way. Williams’ play laughs at stereotypes. His play talk about black people being laud, having made-up names, that are mad about slavery, etc. It is like accepting that all those things are true because they are part of the African American experience.
The funny thing about stereotypes in The Waiting Room is how Williams uses them. He took some stereotypes and turned them around. For example, Republicans are known because apparently they always lie, but in the play Uncle Pat says all the time that Republicans always tell the truth. The confederate flag on Gordon’s shirt is not meant to represent slavery like Riley thinks. It is meant to represent just what someone believes and stands for.
Another big similarity is that both plays have white actors. Rutherford Selig (Joe Turner’s), Gordon MacInnes, and Casie MacInnes(The Waiting Room) are the white characters. They are different, but I remembered what Suzan-Lori Parks said in her New Black Math about how a black play has white actors and still is a real black play, because “the presence of the white suggests the presence of the black” (Parks). Both of these black plays talk about slavery, racism and stereotypes, “A black play is not ignorant of history…” (Parks)
Both plays begin with a man and a woman talking about others. In The Waiting Room, Uncle Pat and Jessie Ines talk about family, secrets, and how they want their brother to get better. In Joe Turner’s, Seth and Bertha talk in the first scene about Bynum, Jeremy, and about the life of African Americans; “These niggers coming up here with that old backward country style of living…(Wilson)” Then as all the other characters enter in the play, they discuss more in depth about the African American culture, sometimes in a fun way just like in The Waiting Room that talk about women messing with other woman’s men, baby names, interracial relationships, and adultery.
It was fun to see and hear the audience enjoy the play. That not only makes me think that they were enjoying it, but that they relate to the characters and with what is being said. For example, when Uncle Pat was about to tell “the truth” some audience members laughed anticipating the problem that was coming ahead with Uncle’s words. However, the most hysterical laughs I heard were when they were talking about the baby’s names. I actually think that it is also when I laugh most because that is one thing that seems to characterize African Americans these days, as Uncle Pat said. I cannot recall the name of Rachel’s baby, but it was long, original and complicated. That it when Uncle Pat talks about how their ancestors must be ashamed of those names because they are “fake ridiculous names.” This scene made me remember the one from Joe Turner’s when Seth talks to Jeremy about not paying a fee to keep his job. Seth told him that even by paying the fifty cents, Jeremy would still make money, “…all it cost you is fifty cents. That’s seven dollars and fifty cents profit!” (Wilson). Uncle Pat is also like Seth who criticizes African American costumes and rituals, “Old mumbo jumbo nonsense…” (Wilson).
Uncle Pat makes me think of Bynum from Joe Turner’s also because they are in their sixties and are the ones who know everything and knows everyone. They both do not have identity issues because they are proud of who they are. Both are proud of their race and try to teach that to the younger generations. Bynum and Uncle Pat want their race to embrace their ancestors and to find their “shining man.” Uncle Pat knows that the only way of achieving it is trough learning the truth. That is why his mission seems to be to tell everyone where they came from.
Both plays involve women of different generations but with similar issues. In The Waiting Room; Hannah and Cookie deal with love issues meanwhile Rachel deals with identity problems. However, that is why Jessie Innes exists in the play. Like Bertha, Jessie has the experience to teach something to the other ladies. In Joe Turner’s Zonia, Mattie, Molly, Martha are age apart but each of them represent an African American who struggle with the disappointment of the few opportunities they have had in life. Contrary to Bertha, who represent experience, who probably dealt with love and life issues; but has learned that everything is possible, and that life is actually pleasant if one has faith, gives love, and enjoys every moment.
There is also a similarity between Riley Innes and Seth Holly. Riley and Seth are two men who have overcome their obstacles as African Americans and have succeeded by having their own business. Seth has the boarding house and Riley a restaurant. There was also a time when Riley might have felt like Herald Loomis in Joe Turner’s when the secret is revealed and he learns that he carries white blood in his veins. He felt lost but at the end is proud of who he is.
Waiting rooms and boarding houses are always somewhat uncomfortable but pleasant at some point. Uncomfortable, because of the circumstance why one is there, but if one has to stay there for many hours you end up meeting and learning about other’s life and possible end up making friends. This same thing happens with these two plays because at the end they end up bonding and caring for those who disliked them at first. Just like Rachel end up understanding Mr. Innis about the ancestors’ names, or like Seth with Loomis.
I have seen a couple of plays at the Ensemble and I like how they come up with such a good scenery design. In The Waiting Room they did great. The sound and lighting seemed very realistic. They had an elevator and its door, lights, and sound made it seemed to work like a real one. There was something that I did not like because I could not have some. One was a cup of fresh coffee, because they had a working coffee machine; and some noodle soup, when Cookie brings lunch to the hospital.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, these two plays have so much in common. Their characters go through similar situations even if they are set in different times. They all want to find their place in society, a place and a purpose in their culture. What these two plays have left me, especially The Waiting Room, is that regardless of the race we need to talk straight to our family members and teach them to be proud of their culture. I learned that waiting rooms make people talk, that family can drive you crazy, but that without family, how sad would that be?
*Essay for my African American Theatre Class – Nov 2010
Parks, Suzan-Lori. ”New Black Math,” Theatre Journal 57, no. 4 (December 2005)
Wilson, August. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
Williams, Sam-Art. “The Waiting Room.” The Ensemble Theatre. Oct 15, 2010.