Funnyhouse of a Negro opens in front of a closed curtain; a wild-haired woman, the Mother, walks across the stage carrying a bald head in front of her. She mumbles to herself, appearing to be in a trance.
After she exits, the curtain opens to reveal the Queen’s chamber, with a tomb-like bed at center. In the chamber are two of Sarah’s inner selves: the Duchess of Hapsburg and Queen Victoria.
The women look identical and wear royal gowns and ghostly masks. When knocking is heard, the Queen announces that it must be her father looking for her. The Duchess notes that their father is a black man and she wishes he was dead.
They both complain about him; the Duchess accuses him of killing their mother. Victoria claims that he is dead before the loud knocking ends and the lights go out in the chamber.
The Mother returns on stage carrying the head. She announces that she was raped by the black man, Sarah’s father, then disappears. On another part of the stage, which features a square wall, Sarah (also known as the Negro) enters with a hangman’s rope around her neck and with blood on her face. She carries a patch of kinky hair that is missing from a spot on her head.
Sarah addresses the audience in a monologue: she describes the place where she lives, a room that is located in a brownstone in New York City. Claiming that she idolizes Queen Victoria, she describes her conversations with the Queen. In these conversations, she states that being black is bad.
Sarah also describes her background; particularly her education, interest in poetry, and her desire to live in a room with European antiques. In this scenario, Sarah makes it clear that she wants to surround herself with things from the white world in order to ignore her African American heritage. The pressure of this self-hatred has caused her hair to fall out; she is almost bald. She also has a boyfriend, Raymond; he is a Jewish poet who is interested in African American culture.
As Sarah continues to talk, her four inner selves stand together on stage: in addition to the Queen and the Duchess, a hunchbacked dwarf named Jesus and a black man with a split head named Patrice Lumumba make an appearance.
Sarah claims that she killed her father. Outside of Sarah’s room, in the hallway of the rooming house, the Landlady appears. She informs the audience that Sarah’s father hung himself inside a hotel in Harlem when Patrice Lumumba was murdered. The Landlady describes Sarah’s habit of hiding in her room.
Located above Sarah’s room is the funnyhouse— ruled by Raymond, known as the Funnyman. Raymond and the Duchess talk, with the Duchess clinging to Raymond’s leg. The Duchess worries about her father’s imminent arrival from Africa. Raymond confirms that her father is the man who shot himself when Patrice Lumumba was murdered.
The Duchess describes her father as a man who went to Africa as a Christian missionary in the jungle. She opens the bag she is carrying, which is full of her hair. She describes her father and the rape of her mother. She describes herself as in-between her father’s darkness and mother’s lightness. The Duchess also reveals that her mother is in an insane asylum.
Patrice Lumumba addresses the audience in a monologue. He lost his hair too. Furthermore, he describes his mother watching her hair fall out strand by strand, because of ‘‘black diseases.’’ Inside the Queen’s chamber, the Queen discovers that her hair has fallen out too. The Duchess...
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tries to put her own hair back on her head.
Patrice describes his background the same way Sarah did earlier: where he lives, how he majored in English in college, and how he writes poetry. He also wants white friends to go with his room filled with European antiques. But he says he will despise them as he does himself. He also claims to have hit his father, which caused him to lose his hair.
With her inner selves walking around her, Sarah describes how her paternal grandmother wanted her father to be Christ and save his people. Her paternal grandfather believed that his race was not worth saving. His parents did want him to marry Sarah’s mother.
When Sarah’s parents went to Africa as missionaries, her mother fell out of love with her father. Sarah’s mother would not be touched by him, but after her father started to drink, he raped her mother— resulting in Sarah. She announces that she loved her mother more than her father when they lived in Africa.
After her mother’s hair began falling out, the family returned to the United States. Sarah says that her father felt like a Judas for driving her mother to an insane asylum, and he once tried to hang himself in a hotel in Harlem.
Inside the Duchess’s place (a ballroom with a chandelier), Jesus and the Duchess talk. Jesus is upset that he lost his hair. The Duchess shows him that she is also bald. While the knocking continues, Jesus and the Duchess try to fix their remaining strands of hair. They talk about how their father will not leave them alone.
Outside Sarah’s room, the Landlady continues to talk. She describes events from Sarah’s father’s perspective: he wanted Sarah’s forgiveness for being black.
Back inside the Duchess’s place, Jesus and the Duchess have fallen asleep. Jesus wakes up and tells God he has tried to escape being black. He decides to go to Africa and kill Patrice Lumumba.
After a blackout, a jungle scene covers the entire stage. Each of Sarah’s four inner selves appears, wearing a nimbus. Jesus says that he always believed his father was God. They all describe how they each wanted their father dead, and how their mother died because she was touched by a black man.
Furthermore, the inner selves believe that their father killed their mother and that he is also dead. Yet he continues to knock at the door. They describe a scene in which he begs Sarah for forgiveness, and her mother appears. Sarah hits him with an ebony hand. They four selves laugh and cheer in victory.
A wall drops, and Sarah’s room is revealed. Sarah has hung herself, and her father rushes toward her. Outside the room, the Landlady tells Raymond that Sarah has hung herself like her father did when Patrice Lumumba died. Raymond calls Sarah a liar, explaining that her father is a black doctor married to a white woman.