I was impressed by how long Tarell Alvin McCraney was willing to sit in silence until I asked him something. When I first met him, on the campus of Yale University, where he is chairman of the playwriting program — one of the most exclusive in the country, admitting only three students each year — it struck me that he was, if not distant, then at the very least aloof. Small talk was made and pleasantries exchanged, but I couldn’t help noticing that there was not much eye contact. At first I attributed this to normal self-consciousness, but as the day progressed it occurred to me that it might be a kind of honesty: He wouldn’t do me or himself the disrespect of offering a charm performance. He simply said it was nice to meet me and suggested we get a bite at a nearby Cuban restaurant. Once there, he looked over the menu for not long at all before ordering the eggplant steak and then, as if on impulse, an empanada de guayaba and a cafe con leche. He would drink the coffee but would have the empanada boxed up to share, he said, with his students.
Then came the silence. It seemed that he might have sat there all day had I let him, quietly content, thinking about various plays, or current events, or music, or film. Instead, I started to explain how much the film “Moonlight” — based on a script McCraney wrote in his early 20s, for which he would ultimately win an Oscar — meant to me. I told him that I grew up in circumstances that allowed me to relate to its central character. And it was here that McCraney began asking the questions, leaning slightly forward over the table, regarding me with patient but curious eyes: Where were my people from, what was their world like, how did my father fit in if at all, which plays did I perform in during high school, what did my mother think of my performances? He was a near balance of observer and observed, 60 percent admirer, 40 percent work of art.
There were details he would recall and bring up long after this meeting. Three weeks later, he would make a joke that showed he remembered my birthday. This is normally the stuff of politicians — a parlor trick of remembering details, of making others feel as if they have your care and attention. But with McCraney it does not feel performative. He has a way of understanding and respecting the stories of anyone he chooses: my story, the stories of the characters in his scripts and plays, the stories of the graduate students he spends his days teaching. He asks questions that draw you into relief against your background and show you not only your own beauty but also his. This, it seems, is one of the ways he has learned to navigate a treacherous world and stay intact, or as intact as a queer black man can be in America.
The McCraney Literary Universe is a large one: He is 38 and has seen eight plays produced, written two screenplays, won a MacArthur genius grant and adapted Shakespeare for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. (When I asked what made him like theater when he first encountered it, he replied: “I don’t necessarily know if I like it now” — but “the drive to do it is innate.”) If you want to write about this universe, you must be comfortable using the word “beautiful.” In McCraney’s work, the beauty of blackness is a praxis unto itself, the method by which larger theories about life are made manifest. The full, original title of the screenplay that became “Moonlight” was “In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” The film, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2017, wasn’t just about the beauty of its characters but about the way they fight a losing battle against that beauty — how they try to beat it out of themselves and one another. The central conflict is that of a character trying to find harmony between who he is and who he is expected to be, a struggle that is, for many black men, not a theoretical matter but a violent, corporeal one.
The same ideas recur in “Choir Boy,” the queer coming-of-age tale that marked McCraney’s Broadway debut when it opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in early January. This story, too, sits amid one of the primary contradictions of black American maleness: To be black and fully realized is to be beautiful. But to be beautiful is to be wanted, which, in America, is to be unsafe.
McCraney was raised in a working-class family in Liberty City, a five-square-mile section of northwest Miami that is home to one of the largest black populations in Florida. His mother struggled with drug addiction for the entirety of his upbringing, ultimately succumbing to AIDS-related conditions when McCraney was 22. His future collaborator Barry Jenkins, who directed “Moonlight,” was just a year older, raised just a few miles away, also by a mother struggling with addiction.
[Read Angela Flournoy’s profile of Barry Jenkins, the director of “Moonlight.”]
From the beginning, McCraney says, he was obsessed with telling stories. He credits his grandfather, who was a Baptist minister, for deepening his understanding of the spiritual power of narrative. Growing up alongside immigrants from Haiti and Cuba also meant McCraney was exposed to the Orishas, the pantheon of gods in the Yoruba religion, a West African theology that has found expression in the Caribbean and across the African diaspora. The stories of the Orishas, like those of the Greek gods, comprise a veritable soap opera of betrayals, heartbreaks, love affairs and tragic flaws. Their influence on McCraney was meaningful enough that he would one day write a trilogy of dramas, “The Brother/Sister Plays,” based on Orisha stories.
McCraney’s academic potential was recognized early. In middle school, he found himself tracked into a magnet program that let him focus on literature and performing arts. Thus began a long stretch of working in spaces where McCraney was either the only black person present or one of very few — an experience that strikes him as something of a doubtful advantage. “You’re told, ‘You’ve got this special gift, this thing that will cure you of your blackness,’ ” he says. “But then they use that same information to castigate and diminish your people. So now you’re alone and can’t relate to nobody. So what do you actually win?”
As a teenager, he became politically active through street theater, working on community plays designed to raise awareness of H.I.V. testing and education. He carried this political view of theater to DePaul University in Chicago. It was in Chicago, in the early 2000s, that he auditioned for a show by the director and playwright Tina Landau, of Steppenwolf Theater, who would become his most frequent collaborator: By her count, they’ve done 12 productions together since they first met. “He was just this beautiful, startling young man with lots of depth and mystery,” she says. Years later, when he approached her to direct one of his plays, she was struck by the power of his writing. His stories, she says, “on the one hand, have not been told — because the details, the specifics, are so of his real life and the lives of his characters — and at the same time they operate on this very fundamental — what’s the word I’m looking for — on an ur level.”
After DePaul, McCraney took a year off, during which he traveled to Georgia to bury his mother and worked briefly in Miami theater. Then he took his talents to Yale, as a student in the same graduate playwriting program he now oversees. Part of his application was an early version of the script for “Moonlight,” a largely autobiographical story written around the time of his mother’s death. It was the overwhelming intensity of his emotions at the time, he thinks, that created the heightened poetry of the film. He was unlikely, he told me, to write anything quite like that in the future. “I was 23 when I wrote that. I don’t want to be 23 again. I don’t want to be in that much pain ever again.”
If beauty is the pillar at one end of his work, pain is at the other. McCraney digs unflinchingly into the suffering that pulses at the center of his character’s lives. I asked him about the concern some black artists and storytellers have — that our work may simply boil down to trading in black pain for rent money. “If the question, for you, about peddling black pain is appropriate,” he replied, “you also have to think to yourself, well, why am I in so much pain?” It doesn’t make sense, he suggested, to demand that an artist produce joy when his or her inner life is still processing grief. He then talked about the rapper Lil Wayne, who famously suffered a gunshot wound at age 12. For years, he said the gun had gone off by accident; only last year did he reveal that the childhood wound was from a suicide attempt. “He talks about the time that he shot himself because it still haunts him,” McCraney said. “He woke up in a pool of blood. He’s, like, engaged in that, and going through it. Why is it important for us to be like, ‘Hey, get over that. Where are the dandelions?’ ”
It was not long after McCraney’s graduation from Yale that he mounted his first production at Steppenwolf, became the group’s 43rd member and wrote and directed work for the Public Theater, Center Theater Group and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he directed interpretations of “Hamlet” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” “The only thing that kept me going,” he told me of that time, thinking of the second play, “was: I’ve got to bring this play back to the little Haitian girls who live across the street from me, who have never seen themselves as royalty.” Around this time, Barry Jenkins came across “Moonlight” and asked McCraney for permission to rework it into a shooting script, prompting McCraney’s first foray into feature film. Steven Soderbergh’s film of McCraney’s second feature, a basketball drama titled “High Flying Bird,” is scheduled for Netflix release in February — and in addition to the Broadway run of “Choir Boy,” the Oprah-led OWN network has ordered a season of McCraney’s first television project, the semi-autobiographical “David Makes Man,” currently filming in Orlando.
Allison Davis, a writer on “David Makes Man,” remembers walking into the writers’ room with some nervousness. “He could have thrown his ego around that room, and it would have been justified,” she told me by phone from Los Angeles. Instead, she was disarmed when McCraney suggested the staff begin by taking an online quiz to determine which Harry Potter house each person would belong to. “Then we started talking about what all the houses represented, and then we started talking about what in our backgrounds made us answer the way we did, and it became this very deep discussion about language and trauma and influences, and we were talking about this for like three hours.”
This ability to merge the mundane with the profound, to draw complex emotions out of many different people and sources, is a hallmark of McCraney’s work. “ ‘David Makes Man’ pulls from so many references,” Davis said. “The Bible is up in there, Yoruba is up in there, Miami street culture is up in there, ball culture is up in there. He weaves it into this wonderful tapestry, and he treats them all with equal reverence.”
“I have never — and I mean this — never encountered a script for television with this depth of value,” says Phylicia Rashad, one of the show’s stars. “Because he is bringing cultural influence that, to my knowledge, has not been seen, but exists.”
There are not many people from Liberty City, Miami, directing for the Royal Shakespeare Company, winning Oscars and administering programs at Yale. McCraney is consistently in rarefied air. This goes beyond W.E.B. Du Bois’s notion of “double consciousness.” To be a black queer man from poverty and enjoy accolades in some of the most exclusory spaces in Western theater doesn’t just call for the maintenance of multiple consciousnesses; it requires a strategy for keeping them working smoothly together. “When people say, ‘I’m tired,’ ” McCraney told me, “it’s not necessarily like, ‘I’ve been working in a cotton field all day.’ There’s tired, like — you just don’t know how much pre-thinking, post-thinking, anxiousness, anxiety, that one has to toggle in order to deal with the United States. Not just white people, but the way that the United States is set up.”
His characters frequently find themselves wrestling with their identities, trying desperately to keep their bearings in a world that offers them little reliable support. “Moonlight” tracked a young boy in Liberty City who’s abused for being gay before he even knows what gay means; he finds temporary solace in a local drug dealer, the first person who cares more about taking care of him than about responding to his still-developing orientation. In a second chapter, the boy, now a teenager, experiences his first love with another boy, after which he meets with even more bullying and violence. He is forced to defend himself, which means closing parts of himself forever. In the third chapter, he is a man — isolated, reticent, guarding his vulnerability with a tool kit composed largely of push-ups, gold teeth and firearms — when a reunion with his teenage love forces him to make a decision about whether he will live and love as a queer man. Part of what makes the film work so exquisitely is the consistent sense of a character’s trying to find alignment with his deepest self while surrounded by limitless opportunities to lie.
In McCraney’s 2016 family drama, “Head of Passes,” Phylicia Rashad starred as the matriarch of a New Orleans family who faces a crisis of faith when a terrible secret is revealed. As rains pour down, causing destruction in the family home, she must make peace with a God who would accept such suffering, while her three children rant and rage toward their own horrifying ends. Comparisons with Shakespeare’s “King Lear” are easy to make, but for McCraney the plot similarities are not the point; the characters are. “That’s an underutilized population of actors,” he says of black women entering late middle age. “There are women her age who don’t get to Lear.” To “Lear,” as a verb, means to take over a stage in your later years and expound upon life’s quandaries. It is assumed of esteemed white male actors that they will age gracefully into such roles, roaring and speechifying and showing their gravity. But where is that space for actors like Phylicia Rashad? “It’s annoying,” McCraney says, “because who better to Lear than these women?”
Perhaps by way of reparations, McCraney gives the play over to Rashad’s character in the second act, granting her 20 full minutes alone onstage to rail against an unforgiving God while the heavens swirl. It is thrilling to see, in part because Rashad is a master of her craft, matching the force of the nature she confronts with the force of the nature within — and in part because, as in “Moonlight,” we are watching a character do everything she can to hold onto a sliver of self amid a sea of violent forces.
These plays are, quite possibly, McCraney’s own sliver of self. While “Moonlight,” “Choir Boy” and “David Makes Man” are more strictly autobiographical, nearly every work he creates contains elements of his experience. His home and neighborhood were destroyed by Hurricane Andrew when he was in middle school, and a frequent aspect of his scripts is use of the pathetic fallacy: The mood of the heavens insists itself into the plot, manifesting the inner lives of his characters. His narratives often feel like stories of mortals adrift against a pantheon of gods who are, if not capricious, deeply flawed and untrustworthy.
In Yoruba lore, one supreme god is Obatala, who typically dresses in white, can appear as either male or female and is the default owner of all souls until those souls are claimed by another Orisha. Obatala is all-powerful, the creator of humankind. But in one instance the god was drunk on wine and made some mistakes in creation. As a result, the experiences of people on earth are sometimes difficult, painful and unfair. For this reason, Obatala looks upon our suffering with extra care and favor. Unlike the Christian God, whose absolution serves as evidence of his faultlessness, Obatala does not grant us charity because we are imperfect. Obatala grants us charity because Obatala is imperfect.
If the playwright is a creator of worlds, he is every bit as forgiving and loving of his subjects as Obatala is. There is a kindness in his treatment of character, a clear love. A major factor in the creation of “Head of Passes,” McCraney told me, his voice raising a couple of pitches, a smile opening up across his face, was that he just loves “seeing black women looking at and talking to black women onstage. There is nothing better.”
On a Saturday morning in December, I arrived at a Manhattan Theater Club studio in a building on West 43rd Street to watch rehearsals for “Choir Boy.” The play tells the story of an openly gay teenage boy, Pharus, who is the head of the prestigious choir at a stalwart all-black boarding academy called the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. His sexuality, as well as his general boldness and impulsivity, puts his relationships — and sometimes his body — at risk, and forces his peers to confront their own loves and insecurities. The music consists entirely of interpolations of Negro spirituals and folk songs like “Rockin’ Jerusalem” and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” delivered in multipart harmony by the nine actors playing students. In the scene I watched the cast work on, the character of David, played by Caleb Eberhardt, decides to open his heart to another character, which he does by starting off a song, “Motherless Child.” The lyrics — “sometimes I feel like a motherless child/a long way from home” — date back to slavery, and like the words of most spirituals, they have a clear and heavy range of meanings. You can interpret them as personal, spiritual and political, all at once.
All those meanings are at play in the scene. The boys of Drew are, literally, a long way from home. They share showers, sleep in dorm rooms and can call home only once a week. They are left to build themselves out of whatever is in the air: tough but fair headmasters, a dignified but burdensome “black excellence” tradition, a sky full of forceful and conflicting expectations of black masculinity. It is too much and boils over.
Tensions are high among the boys in the locker room, who are still buzzing over a recent near-fight. David, on the way to the shower, stops to sing the first stanza of the song alone, then to a classmate. Then the entire group joins in, sending their voices echoing off unforgiving tile. It is meant to be heart-rending.
The problem, this morning, was that it wasn’t working. The director, Trip Cullman — he most recently directed Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero,” last year — was gamely trying different ways of transitioning into this fraught moment. What if Eberhardt did it from upstage? What if he went halfway off and came back? What if he started quietly and then built?
The playwright was present, wearing a cream-colored cardigan, crisp jeans and gleaming, off-white, all-leather Chuck Taylors, seated at a folding table crowded with script binders and room-temperature coffees. So far, I had heard him say little. But now he asked for the floor. The actors took seats. I noticed I was nervous for him. When the actors are struggling and the director can’t seem to find a solution, you’re forced to ask: Could the problem be the script?
But when McCraney talked, he didn’t talk about the play or the dialogue. Instead, he talked about grief. Casually, as though it were something that just came to his mind. He explained what it felt like to lose his mother at 22. He did not talk about how she died, and he hinted only a little at the complexity of their relationship; this address was not autobiographical. It was to do with emotions. McCraney described how grief lives in a person’s body, how it settles there. He explained its half-life, the unreliable nature of its decay. He talked about the phenomenon, when grieving a loved one, in which you begin to have memories of times after their death that you think they must have been present for. Remember when I won an Academy Award for my movie, and you were so proud? And then he talked about how things like that make you grieve their absence all over again, and how that grief catches you unawares, taking over your body when you least expect it. It sits in a small reservoir beneath your heart. It whispers to you at odd hours and yells at you in quiet ones.
I teared up just a little bit hearing it. My own mother died in my arms almost exactly 10 years earlier. My relationship with her was also complicated. My grief also weaves in and out of being with little explanation or predictability. McCraney was calling something into the room, I might even say invoking it. All that was happening was that he was explaining something about grief — something that he, at age 38, knew, and that the cast, talented black Broadway-level actors/dancers/singers ranging in age from maybe 20 to 25, may not yet have known but were capable of understanding.
When he was done explaining, Eberhadt spoke up. “I have an idea,” he said. “Is it O.K. if I try something?” To which McCraney replied: “It’s your show, man. Absolutely.”
Back to places. The boys were at their fake lockers wearing fake towels; Eberhadt stood upstage, fake shower caddy in hand. Action. He turned downstage, thought about singing to one boy, decided against it. Caught his breath. Blinked. Called out the first word of the song with a force that seemed centuries old. Sometimes. It echoed and landed. There was silence. We felt it in our chests. He continued. Sometimes I don’t know where to go. My mother, my father won’t own me. So I try to make heaven my home.
Now the chorus joined in. It was a youthful mourning, a boyish mourning. A male and adolescent mourning. A black one. A harmonious one. The song grew, the room was filled with it, it cascaded outward, upward from their bodies in clouds of spirit that, if you closed your eyes, you could almost see. When they finished, there was a moment of quiet in the room before the director said, simply: “Yeah. That’s it.”
The moment McCraney lit up the most, smiled the widest, was when we began to talk about Spike Lee. “This man can shoot a film,” he said. “Nobody captures us in a cinematic, moving experience like Spike Lee.” One of his favorites, he told me, was Lee’s sophomore feature, “School Daze,” released in 1988. It’s fair to say I was, as a youth, obsessed with this film: I had entire scenes memorized. I bought a copy of the script and read it late at night by flashlight.
McCraney’s excitement caused me to revisit it. It is just as I remembered it: wild, unclean, slapdash, hyperstylized. It’s a comedy about an uber-woke student at a historically black college — played by a very young Laurence Fishburne — and his battles with a black-and-bougie frat-boy nemesis (Giancarlo Esposito) and his girlfriend (Tisha Campbell). “It’s just extraordinary,” McCraney told me. “If you ever wanted to talk about Spike Lee having a black queer aspect, it’s in ‘School Daze.’ Because even in his endeavor to talk about the binary of colorism, he ends up just exploring everything that’s in the middle.”
The scene McCraney told me he most loved was the jazz and R&B legend Phyllis Hyman’s performance at the school’s homecoming dance. Hyman is an undiluted marvel in all black, crowned by a regal headpiece with a shimmering gemstone in the center. Lee stops time in the film to admire her, matching the camera’s movements to her lithe alto and the warm, velvet delivery of her lyrics. It is a meditation, a reminder of all that we as black people possess, our history, our musicality, the art of it and the refinement of it. Hyman, who was 38 when “School Daze” was released, was an extraordinary talent who never experienced the fame reached by contemporaries like Anita Baker or Whitney Houston, despite being, perhaps, the better singer. When she committed suicide with a cocktail of sleeping pills in her Midtown apartment seven years later, she left a note. “I’m tired,” it said. “I’m tired.” Not working-in-a-cotton-field tired, but pre-thinking, post-thinking, anxiety and suffering and grief tired. Rewatching “School Daze” made me want to hug and protect every single black person on the screen; it made me want to keep Phyllis Hyman alive. It made me want to sing along with the choir in the rehearsal studio. It reminded me that I am not alone in feeling, sometimes, like a motherless child, a long, long way from home.
The emotional stakes for black artists are often so very high. It can be overwhelming to be deeply sensitive, to love your people so much and still watch daily what is done to them. The centuries of pain, the unanswered calls for humanity, the depth of grief sometimes threaten to become too much, too heavy. It is no wonder that there are those among us who take into their mouths entire bottles of sleeping pills or put pistols to their 12-year-old chests until there is no more left to feel.
To love black people immensely, to celebrate our very being as poetry, to lose yourself in our stories, to search them desperately and perpetually for our beauty — at the rehearsal for “Choir Boy,” what I witnessed was a man who has made himself a connoisseur of grief sharing that expertise with a roomful of younger black artists. His power, sure, is that he’s a playwright and that he has, through decades of study and training, built, from the ground up, a container for his mastery of feeling. Understanding and creating stories has been one survival method. But another has been the development of a keen, patient and nearly pansophical emotional intelligence. He has, in a sense, cracked the code on how to remain safe as a beautiful black man, at least for himself. It is, of course, to focus almost entirely on understanding and showing the beauty of others like you.B:
“【当】【然】，【你】【是】【怎】【么】【改】【变】【主】【意】【的】?”【你】【知】【道】，【头】【是】【傲】【慢】【的】。【即】【使】【你】【足】【够】【强】【大】，【你】【也】【不】【会】【向】【他】【低】【头】。【我】【到】【欧】【洲】【来】【的】【时】【候】，【没】【想】【到】【你】【会】【接】【受】【他】。【多】【年】【来】，【特】【莎】【很】【了】【解】【马】【克】【斯】。 “【即】【便】【如】【此】，【他】【也】【是】【人】。【只】【要】【是】【人】【就】【有】【弱】【点】，【马】【布】【斯】【也】【是】。” 【张】【成】【停】【了】【下】【来】，【对】【她】【说】:“【马】【库】【斯】【充】【满】【了】【希】【望】。【我】【给】【了】【他】【希】【望】，【他】【无】【法】【拒】【绝】福彩双色球开奖结果预测【这】【不】【按】【套】【路】【出】【牌】，【也】【是】【够】【了】【严】【格】【来】【说】，【撂】【担】【子】【不】【干】。 【凌】【洲】【此】【举】【正】【是】【如】【此】。 【一】【直】【下】【去】，【有】【种】【套】【娃】【的】【感】【觉】，【谁】【会】【愿】【意】【呢】？ 【这】【不】，【凌】【洲】【跟】【萌】【宠】【对】【视】【一】【眼】，【直】【接】【撂】【担】【子】【不】【干】，【管】【你】【天】【崩】【地】【裂】，【睡】【醒】【之】【后】【再】【说】。 【此】【举】【也】【让】【这】【片】【空】【间】【的】【意】【识】【一】【度】【沉】【默】。 【沉】【默】【了】【许】【久】【许】【久】 【凌】【洲】【睡】【醒】【一】【觉】，【还】【是】【处】
【活】【了】【那】【么】【多】【年】，【她】【什】【么】【稀】【罕】【事】【儿】【没】【见】【过】，【直】【到】【发】【现】【自】【己】【是】【个】【稀】【罕】【玩】【意】【儿】。 【虽】【然】【她】【对】【自】【己】【不】【是】【人】【这】【件】【事】【已】【经】【隐】【约】【有】【所】【察】【觉】，【但】【没】【想】【到】【现】【在】【连】【眼】【睛】【都】【跟】【人】【类】【不】【一】【样】【了】。 【复】【眼】【是】【啥】【东】【西】【她】【还】【是】【知】【道】【的】，【所】【以】【她】【下】【意】【识】【掏】【出】【了】【镜】【子】，【借】【着】【萤】【石】【的】【光】，【扒】【开】【眼】【皮】【看】【着】【镜】【子】【里】【的】【眼】【珠】【子】，【生】【怕】【看】【见】【里】【面】【有】【网】【眼】。 【风】【翊】：“
“【轰】【轰】……【轰】【轰】【轰】……” 【不】【断】【有】【炮】【弹】【落】【到】【了】【野】【猪】【岭】【上】，【无】【数】【弹】【片】【伴】【随】【着】【炮】【弹】【内】【的】【铁】【珠】【以】【每】【秒】【数】【百】【米】【的】【速】【度】【不】【住】【的】【收】【割】【着】【流】【寇】【们】【的】【生】【命】。 【从】【未】【遭】【受】【过】【这】【种】【场】【面】【的】【流】【寇】【们】【立】【刻】【崩】【溃】【了】，【一】【名】【名】【刚】【才】【还】【在】【咬】【着】【牙】【弯】【弓】【搭】【箭】【想】【要】【将】【下】【面】【的】【明】【军】【射】【死】【的】【弓】【箭】【手】【们】【此】【刻】【要】【么】【趴】【在】【地】【上】【动】【也】【不】【敢】【动】，【要】【么】【被】【吓】【得】【漫】【无】【目】【的】【的】【四】【处】