Charles Gordone Essay - Gordone, Charles (Vol. 1)

Gordone, Charles (Vol. 1)

Gordone, Charles 1926?–

Pulitzer Prize-winning Black American playwright, the first Black playwright to be so honored.

Brother Gordone is an eminently gifted and hardworking artist who has fallen prey to that lamentable inclination of Black men in America to trot along someone else's road—those paved boulevards of good intention that lead inevitably to … ah, need we say? He has been forced, by the lack of alternative choices, no doubt, into an acceptance of small favors offered by men of cultural limitations….

Gordone's worst errors … grow out of his desire to say too much—indeed, to say it all—in this, his first play. Pouring all of his clearly rich experience and splendid talents into one work is, I fear, a thoroughly uncool move.

I was speaking of his worst errors. Excuse me, I meant second worst. The first was in allowing the Public Theater to get at his play. That's like asking Albert Shanker to act as master of ceremonies for a Rhody McCoy testimonial.

Clayton Riley, in New York Times (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 18, 1969.

Let's be simple about this. Charles Gordone is the most astonishing new American playwright to come along since Edward Albee, and with "No Place to Be Somebody,"… he lurches at us not like the younger Albee or the one-act Albee but like the already ripe and roaring Albee of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

This time the milieu is black, this time the malice can't be made to crumple and die at dawn but must see its way to as many sprawled corpses as "Hamlet" has, this time the work is called comedy but plunges straight through the paper hoop of comedy to land upside down and splattered all over with an ugliness that won't wipe off, this time the tongue lashings shade away regularly into a thumping or a reflective poetry. The construction of the play is complex, rich, garish, improbable, overburdened, defiant and successful….

[What] is important is that a writer has turned up who has the nerve of his talent. The overfull play does not sprawl, is never embarrassed by its own appetite. The melodrama belongs to the materials at the same time that it is being theatrically arresting, the bar talk and the imagery relieve each other readily, the inside of a man's head and the outside, outsize, roiling world fuse.

Walter Kerr, "Not Since Edward Albee" (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), in New York Times, May 18, 1969.

Judged by formal standards, "No Place to Be Somebody" … is a huge, sprawling, shapeless mess of a play, slopped all over the stage with appalling carelessness. Scarcely three minutes pass without some incredibility of plot, contrivance of characterization, jumbling of genres, or excess of language….

But while most new playwrights rattle around in conventional genres. Gordone overflows his. If he ever finds the form to fit his humanity—form not as a container of content but as content's very shape—our theatre may be enlarged to new and thrilling dimensions.

Even now, even with every reservation, his energy virtually grabs the audience by the throat, lifts it into the air, and slams it against the wall.

Ross Wetzsteon, "Theatre Journal" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; © by The Village Voice, Inc., 1969), in Village Voice, May 22, 1969.

No Place to Be Somebody is a play that would pass more or less unnoticed were it written by a white dramatist. It is written, however, by a black playwright, Charles Gordone, and being hailed as something just short of a revelation. Most extravagant in his praise was Walter Kerr, who compared this first play not to the younger or lesser Albee, but to "the already ripe and roaring Albee of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Well, roaring, to be sure. If I were Albee, I'd sue….

Gordone has written a typical protest play. But he has chopped it up into short scenes to give it a novel-like quality, and he has added the monologues, the transvestite bit and the imaginary militant to raise the play out of naturalism. The attempts at heightening miscarry, and even the realistic foundation is shaky, I sympathize with Gordone's bitterness and understand his pent-up rage; it is his dramaturgy that I have little use for. He has tried to cram at least three plays into one; his characters, especially the white ones, tend to be shmata if not automata; his dialogue, though sometimes juicy, often deteriorates downward into banality or upward into grandiloquence. It is all rather like The Time of Your Life, with the rosy spectacles traded in for shades.

John Simon, "Underwriting, Overreaching," in New York, June 9, 1969, p. 56.

Gordone has a marvelous talent for dialogue, for bitter epithets and insults; for confrontations (each one a striking set piece); for small details that reveal character (the Italian mobster who is momentarily distracted from killing by the sight of soul food, which he grew up on); and for creating whole and vivid characters.

Mel Gussow, in New York Times (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 31, 1969.

Mr. Gordone is as fearless as he is ambitious, and such is the speed and energy with which he causes his characters to assault each other—every encounter is, in fact, a collision—that we have neither the time nor the will to catch our breath and disbelieve. The language of ["No Place to Be Somebody"] is exceptionally rough and exceptionally eloquent; it is a proof of Mr. Gordone's immense talent that the excrementitious gutterances of his large cast of whores, gangsters, jailbirds, and beat-up drifters stamp themselves on the memory as beautiful.

Brendan Gill, in The New Yorker, January 10, 1970, p. 64.

While ["No Place to Be Somebody"] admittedly concerns racial tensions, [Gordone] hopes it expresses his overall view that drama should deal with "catholic" or universal themes and not politics per se. "Politics should be left to the streets," he says.

Variety, August 26, 1970.