Charles Gordone Gordone, Charles (Vol. 4) - Essay

Gordone, Charles (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gordone, Charles 1925–

Gordone is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Black American playwright.

Charles Gordone's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama [No Place to Be Somebody] depicts the black experience, but it is also concerned with people, black and white, who are filled with despair but who continue to hold on to their dreams, dreams shaped by their surroundings….

The action in Gordone's play is harsh and raw. The confrontations between the characters are many and striking as they engage in their love-hate relationships….

The action of No Place to Be Somebody is episodic; the construction, complex. But with a few exceptions Gordone weaves all of these elements into an integrated whole. The action, which sometimes seems overburdening on stage, becomes less so when the play is read. Then the architecture of the play reveals itself more clearly. The character Machine Dog, the symbol of black militancy in the mind of Johnny, is one of the elements that remain separate from the whole. Though I understand the playwright's intention, to deepen the meaning of the character of Johnny, Machine Dog remains a flaw. I am struck by the richness of Gordone's language—witty, lyrical, convincing. The dialogue, though sometimes humorous, is filled with pathos and insults.

By the standards of the black revolutionary dramatists, Gordone is a conservative. His play does not fulfill LeRoi Jones's challenge to black playwrights: "Everything we do must commit us collectively to revolution, i.e., National Liberation." Gordone, on the other hand, believes that the idea of the black theatre is dead….

No Place to Be Somebody, which recalls Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, began as a workshop production in Joseph Papp's Public Theater and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1970. Its creator, Charles Gordone, has been described as "the most astonishing new American playwright to come along since Edward Albee."

Jeanne-Marie A. Miller, "A Drama of the Black Experience," in The Journal of Negro Education, Spring, 1971, pp. 185-86.

The central interest of No Place [to be Somebody] … obtains, as does its form, from what is in essence a dialectic between Gabe and his alter ego, Johnny. Theirs is a dialectic about the nature of life and possibility, dispossession and affirmation; about, in short, the blackness of Blackness. Informing it is the most deadly seriousness, for its outcome determines nothing less than the working out of Gabe's fate. Very shortly on in the play, it becomes a confrontation between art and anarchy, style and substance, subversion and accommodation….

No Place is a tragicomedy, a "Black-black" comedy true to both the letter and the spirit of the blues in its near-comic, near-tragic duality. Herein lies the most stylized element of the drama, this ordering of experience faithful to the complexity of life and testament to the inviolable diversity of experience, which is a matter both for the tears of the clown and the tragedian. That Gabe is able to resist the utter bleakness of self-pitying despair for a vision which accommodates the rude, vigorous humor of even his own scarred experience is a triumph of no small dimensions.

Ronald Walcott, "Ellison, Gordone and Tolson: Some Notes on the Blues, Style and Space," in Black World (copyright © December, 1972, by Black World; reprinted by permission of Black World and Ronald Walcott), December, 1972, pp. 4-29.

Johnny's Bar. It is in Greenwich Village, and it is in Gabe Gabriel's head—perhaps more in Gabe's head…. It is real, as real as his pain, as real as the torment, the pain, and the anguish of nearly all the characters in Charles Gordone's powerful and lacerating "Black-black comedy" No Place to Be Somebody…. No Place to Be Somebody is a play of dying dreams….

The tone [of the epilogue] is somehow wrong, false even. It fails to jibe with the harsh and bitter reality and the ironic humor that have gone before. For what has gone before, for all its melodrama and its sometime lack of discipline, has a pungency, an immediacy, and a cohesiveness that that last gesture somehow violates. But it is one of the very few wrong steps. No Place to Be Somebody vibrates with a kind of vitality all too seldom found on contemporary stages. It may sprawl; it may on occasion become self-indulgent or sentimental; it never bores. It is alive.

Catharine Hughes, "'No Place to Be Somebody'," in her Plays, Politics and Polemics, Drama Book Specialists, 1973, pp. 53-8.