Where: The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, Oakland
Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes, one intermission
510-332-1319, www.lower bottomplayaz.com
LOWER BOTTOM PLAYAZ Adimu Madyun, left, and Pierre Scott star in "Radio Golf," part of playwright August Wilson's 10-play cycle about African-American life in the 20th century. The play is being staged by Oakland's Lower Bottom Playaz. ( photo TaSin Sabir)
Esteemed playwright August Wilson's last play in his ten play cycle ended Sunday afternoon at Oakland's Flight Deck Theatre, produced by Dr. Ayodele Nzinga's Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc. The Lower Bottom Playaz is the only theatre group in the world that has done the ten play cycle in chronological order. Titled Radio Golf, it steps away from the gut bucket stories of most of the works in the cycle. The play deals with the Black Bourgeoisie, that class of house Negroes so well delineated in Dr. E. Franklin Frazier's 60s classic Black Bourgeoisie, Negroes who live in the "world of make believe" and are addicted to conspicuous consumption or full blown materialism. Dr. Nathan Hare also documented this group in his classic The Black Anglo-Saxons. Marvin X deals with the Pan African addiction to white supremacy in his manual How to Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy.
Radio is a timely drama that hit Oakland just in time as the City suffers pervasive gentrification from developers. There is a fight over a name change just as Oakland City Council President Lynette McElhaney resists changing 14th Street to The Black Arts Movement Cultural and Business District.
A Black developer turned politician (he's running for mayor of Pittsburgh, PA) but is caught in family drama along with a corrupt business partner that eventually sells him out or more specifically buys him out.
The Black Arts Movement planners were pondering a theme for the BAM District as they attempted to get the City to give the 14th Street corridor a name that reflects Oakland's radical artistic, cultural and political tradition. Planners selected the theme Let's Do it Right This Time. Alas, the central theme in the Wilson play was do the right thing. The lead character said repeatedly that chaos results when we don't do the right thing. At play's conclusion, he decided to do the right thing by not demolishing an abandoned building his development company had bought illegally in a tax sale. Although the City of Pittsburgh would receive millions in a development deal, he decided he'd rather save the old shack and return it to the rightful owner because it was obtained without public notice.
There was a consensus among the theatre patrons that the poignant moment in the play was when a character named Ole' Joe (sometimes Ole' Black Joe) called one of the developers a Negro as opposed to himself being a nigguh, but a least a nigguh was down to earth while the Negro was an agent of the devil and prided himself in being such. This was the most powerful scene in the play.
It made a clear distinction between the house Negro and the field or street Negro so well described by Malcolm X in his Message to the Grassroots. August Wilson's street Nigguh tells the House Negro he ain't about nothing except being Block Man (Sun Ra term) rather than Black Man. After the Nigguh scolds the Negro, he puts war paint on his face and walks out the door. In the final scene, the lead character puts on war paint and exits.
On Monday, January 4, 3:30PM, the planners of the Black Arts Movement Cultural and Business District will meet in a planning session at Oakland City Hall with the President of the City Council, Lynette McElhaney, who is (for some unknown reason) opposing changing 14th Street to the Black Arts Movement District. She appears stuck on the generic Black Arts Cultural and Business District, without Movement, strangely similar to the Atlanta GA National Black Arts Festival that morphed from its origins in the BAM but is now an annual depiction of mainly Negro bourgeoisie art for art sake in the European tradition. The BAM artists consider themselves artistic freedom fighters in the Paul Robeson tradition, not artists who happen to be black. BAM Queen Sonia Sanchez asks Black artists will your work free us, will your book free us?" Mrs. Amina Baraka, widow of BAM architect ancestor Amiri Baraka, says, "Every Black artist is not part of the Black Arts Movement. Let's be clear on this. If you ain't revolutionary and don't want to be revolutionary, you ain't part of the Black Arts Movement."
On Sunday, January 3, 2016, the BAM community planning committee met at the Joyce Gordon Gallery, 14th and Franklin, downtown Oakland. Oakland Post Newspaper Publisher Paul Cobb told the meeting, "Our mission statement is about movement. I support the Black Arts Movement District name because it ties us to the past and future. There must be movement in the arts, culture and economics. It was Paul Cobb who first called for the Dr. David Blackwell Institute of Art, Math, Science and Technology. We now propose the Blackwell Institute be part of the BAM District.
The Sunday meeting called for the immediate display of banners and vendors along the 14th Street corridor, just as there are vendors on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and Market Street in San Francisco daily. People from out of town, especially the East Coast are shocked to see no vendors selling conscious Black literature on the street as is done up and down the East Coast, from Wash. DC to Philly, Newark, NJ, Brooklyn NY, downtown Manhattan and Harlem NY. Why is Oakland so backward and retarded, yet is known as the USA City of Resistance to oppression?
Paul Cobb said if Lynette cannot include Movement in the name, we'll go to the newly formed Commission on Racial Equity, created by East Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks.
We urge you all to come support the naming of 14th Street the Black Arts Movement Cultural and Business District at Oakland City Hall, Monday, January 4, 2016, 3:30PM. Don't let the reactionaries have the day. Mao said, "The reactionaries will never put down their butcher knives, they will never turn into Buddha heads!" We must practice eternal vigilance!
Marvin X, BAM planner