Douglas Turner Ward Gerald Weales - Essay

Gerald Weales

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Happy Ending] not only uses a verbal sledgehammer on the white family; in the figure of the nephew who learns the value of being a new Uncle Tom, it makes fun of that part of the civil-rights movement which is concerned with the lip-service values of the middle class—dignity, position, image. If the play had been written by a white man, there might be pickets around the theatre, but as it stands it is a harmless inside joke; after all, a joke that is offensive in the mouth of a Klansman might be funny at a Hadassah meeting. Although I do not think Ward meant the play to be anything more than amusing, there is a serious point about American materialism implicit in it….

Day of Absence, which is called "a reverse minstrel show," is based on a supposition which also underlies Happy Ending—that without the Negro to do his presumed menial tasks, white society would collapse. Day of Absence shows us this collapse in a Southern town that wakes up one morning to find all the Negroes gone. It is played by Negroes in white-face, and, like the traditional minstrel show, it deals only in comic stereotypes…. The idea is a clever one, but it is difficult to sustain because Ward quickly becomes repetitious where he needs to be inventive.

It may be that Ward intended more than the surface of his play provides, that he was commenting on some of his fellow Negro playwrights; for the kind of white stereotype that Ward uses as a joke, a writer like James Baldwin uses seriously in Blues for Mister Charlie. (p. 48)

Gerald Weales, "Off-Broadway Trio," in The Reporter (© 1966 by The Reporter Magazine Co.), Vol. 34, No. 4, February 24, 1966, pp. 47-8.∗