I’d never been to any sort of show at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. I figured I’d go at some point in time during my four years here and my chance came this semester. My Engl289X class required that we attend a showing of Callidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America. The course itself centers on contemporary literature drawing on themes of oppression and memory. That is why it didn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that the show we would become required to watch tied into both these themes. Though, what did come as a surprise is how much thought and emotion this play would provoke.
Callidescope shows the audience periods in American history that reverberated the oppression of not only African Americans but of Muslims, children and those who spoke against the majority. It was moving. It was jarring. It was real.
A specific scene that captured the attention of audience members intertwined child abuse, racism and infidelity all in one. A struggling African-American family looks to their patriarch as the source of income and stability. He has just been let go from his recent job and upon reading the newspaper, he notices a job advertisement. The job is strictly for woman but he convinces himself to dress as a woman.
The house in this production belongs to a white middle class family. As the play uncoils, the wife knows of her husband’s pattern of seducing the maid, the father has an obvious drinking problem and the child is left to witness it all.
Callidescope sheds light on historical violence and prejudice. There are scenes from Paul Robeson’s testimony before the House of Un-American Activities Committee and an incredibly powerful performance of James Baldwin’s speech at the West Indian Student Centre in London that close the show and ultimately sent audience members to their feet with roaring applause because it hit to the core of how culture and surrounding influences one’s identity.
“When you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here…without knowing that this is the result of if, you have attacked the entire power structure of the western world.” -James Baldwin.