The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Photograph: Lovers in Motion is set in an old San Francisco flat. The central character is a novice photographer, Sean David, who is sexually involved with a complex triad of women: Nevada is an attorney who wishes to take Sean out of the ghetto and provide him with material comfort; Claire is a model, a cocaine addict, and a nymphomaniac who wants to possess Sean; and Michael is a dancer who wants to help Sean fulfill his dreams. Earl, Sean’s boyhood friend, wants Sean for a lover as well.

Act 1 opens with Sean telling Michael of his dream of becoming a famous photographer. As they examine some of his photographs, Earl enters to remind Sean that he is expected to attend a party at Nevada’s home. Sean antagonizes Michael when he tells her that she is not invited to the party. Michael retaliates by insinuating that some of the nude women in Sean’s photographs are more than mere subjects. Sean nonchalantly reminds her that there are a number of women in his life, but that he will not let them interfere with his relationship with her.

Following Sean’s protestations of devotion to Michael, he allows Claire to dance across his bedroom in a scarlet camisole and lace panties. When he does not respond to Claire’s need to make love, she makes him jealous by mentioning several of her lovers and their charm. Sean angrily tells Claire that if he ever catches her with a lover, he will take her to a nightclub and personally see to it that she is gang raped. Not willing to be threatened, she flaunts her independence, telling him that she will gladly give herself to the gang and invite him to watch. Becoming animated, Sean picks up Claire and tumbles onto the bed to give the nymphomaniac what she wants.


(The entire section is 717 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The central ideas in A Photograph: Lovers in Motion are magnified by several dramatic devices. Ntozake Shange constructs this theater piece around a series of alternating long and short scenes, which, like snapshots, convey the richness of the characters’ lives. Shange blends experimental poetry with traditional dialogue to demonstrate the fragmentedness and uncertainness of her characters’ lives. This poem-play unravels as spontaneously as do the relationships of the characters. As lights rise and fade on a series of scenes, small glimpses are given of the journey that Michael and Sean must take before they can find happiness.

Not only does Shange blend poetic with traditional dialogue, but she also orchestrates the plot by moving the characters back and forth between a nontraditional and a traditional setting. The main action takes place in Sean’s San Francisco flat, which is neat and elegant but a potpourri of scavenged objects and furniture. The secondary action of the play takes place in a plain black space, one that is used by all characters except Sean and Michael. For example, the black space becomes the elegant home of Nevada, where she and Earl, in formal attire, discuss what is best for Sean’s future. In another instance, the black space becomes Earl’s office, where Claire taunts him about his homosexuality and Sean’s sexual capabilities. Also in Earl’s office, he tries to convince Nevada that she is too refined for...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

The Play

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

A Photograph: Lovers in Motion details the complex relationship between artistic creation, sex, and love in the life of photographer Sean David. Largely enacted within his San Francisco flat, the play traces his evolving relationship with a boyhood friend, an artistic patron, a model, and his current lover. The constant touchstones are his artistic ambitions and his developing commitment to Michael, his lover.

In involved discussions, Sean explains his aggressive artistic philosophy to Michael. In an early scene, as he shows her his photographs, he states his goals. “i’m gonna go ona rampage . . . this camera’s gonna get em.” His art, as he explains, is a means of re-creating the world “in my image.” Photography, for Sean, is a tool for filling the holes in his life; he tells Michael, “give me a camera & i cd get you anything you wanted.”

For Sean and Michael, artistic creation is inextricably connected to their daily lives. Because their discussions often take place on their bed, the focus naturally shifts to sex and relationships. Both reject any “normal” romantic conception of heterosexual love. Michael explains to Sean why she is attracted to him. She tells him “i’ve kept a lover/ who waznt all-american/ who didnt believe/ wdnt straighten up. . . . i loved yr bitterness and hankered after that space in you where you are outta control.”

Sean’s conversations with Michael are interrupted periodically by Earl, Nevada, and Claire. Each wants a piece of Sean, for each sees his or her life as interwoven with Sean’s art. Sean controls their wishes and actions, thus revealing the ability of his artistic vision to corrupt.

Sex and sensuality are never far from the surface of the play. The selfish and decadent implications of Sean’s goals are revealed in earthy scenes with Claire, his model. The first modeling session portrays Claire and Sean moving, in a well-oiled dance of lust and desire, from abuse to sex. Sean encourages the willing Claire to pour whiskey over herself and speak of her sexual accomplishments as a prelude to sex.

Although Sean delights in Claire’s actions, she is not a passive victim. Like each of the characters, she has a philosophy that dictates her actions. Her “artistic” vision is vitally connected to the need to be desired. In a later scene, she explains that the foundations for her actions emanate from advice from her father. “yr body is the blood & the flesh/ god gave his only daughter/ to save alla his sons. . . . give a man exactly what he wants & he wants you/ simple as that.”

Sean uses Earl and Nevada just as brazenly. Seeing themselves as the architects of Sean’s development, they often discuss their role as collaborators....

(The entire section is 1137 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Betsko, Kathleen, and Rachel Koenig, eds. Contemporary Women Playwrights. New York: William Morrow, 1987. A collection of interviews exploring the sources of inspiration for contemporary female playwrights. Shange’s interview connects writing to the rhythmic and visceral world of dance. Shange explores political and cultural links to Latin American and Third World writers and discusses the effects of performance art on her writing.

Harrison, Paul Carter, ed. Totem Voices: Plays from the Black World Repertory. New York: Grove Press, 1989. A collection of plays from eminent African American, African, and Afro-Caribbean writers. The introduction links Shange and other writers to the social, political, and cultural roots of the black world repertory. The heart of this tradition is a connection to ritualized roots, non-Western rhythms, and culturally ingrained improvisation. Links to the black church, to poetry, to jazz, and to oral traditions are fully realized in Shange’s writing.

Tate, Claudia. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1983. Portraits of contemporary writers. Includes a thorough and fascinating look at Shange’s artistic development.

Wall, Cheryl A., ed. Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989. A collection of essays from academic feminist critics committed to black female writers. The introduction emphasizes the need to rethink the concept of tradition as it applies to Shange and other contemporary black female writers and argues for evaluating these writers in multiple contexts. Connects Shange to feminist, cultural, and political concerns.

Washington, Mary Helen, ed. Black-Eyed Susans/Midnight Birds: Stories by and About Black Women. New York: Anchor Books, 1989. A diverse collection of works by contemporary black female writers. In a preface to Shange’s stories, Washington connects Shange’s stories, poems, and plays to feminist concerns with heterosexual relations and suggests that creating women who are strong solitary figures undermines the traditional romantic plot. Shange’s rejection of standard English reflects her insistence on independence from male-dominated forms.