I am having an amazing time creating a timeline for a series of plays. I am curious about the interconnectivity of these plays, and want to compare them by looking at the time they are set, or by comparing references within.
Here is my first EUREKA!, and it is a reference to the people of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF; with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, and the playwright August Wilson, in FENCES, written in 1983.
Here’s what I found as a prelude to the printed FENCES:
Near the turn of the century, the destitute of Europe sprang on the city with tenacious claws and an honest and solid dream. The city devoured them. They swelled its belly until it burst into a thousand furnaces and sewing machines, a thousand butcher shops and bakers’ ovens, a thousand churches and hospitals and funeral parlors and moneylenders. The city grew. It nourished itself and offered each man a partnership limited only by his talent, his guile, and his willingness and capacity for hard work. For the immigrants of Europe, a dream dared and won true.
The descendants of African slaves were offered no such welcome or particpation. They came from places called the Carolinas and the Virginias, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. They came strong, eager, searching. The city rejected them and they fled and settled along the riverbanks and under bridges in shallow, ramshackle houses made of sticks and tar-paper. They collected rags and wood. They sold the use of their muscles and their bodies. They cleaned houses and washed clothes, they shined shoes, and in quiet desperation and vengeful pride, they stole, and lived in pursuit of their own dream. That they could breathe free, finally, and stand to meet life with the force of dignity and whatever eloquence the heart could call upon.
By 1957, the hard-won victories of the European immigrants had solidified the industrial might of America. War had been confronted and won with new energies that used loyalty and patriotism as its fuel. Life was rich, full, and flourishing. The Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, and the hot winds of change that would make the sixties a turbulent, racing, dangerous, and provocative decade had not yet begun to blow full.
With the incredible light being shined on slavery, due to the release of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, and knowing, in my heart, that much of our country’s greatness was raised up, literally, on the backs of those who had no voice in the matter, nor any spoils, it is a treasure to find this writing.
In the final moments of FIDDLER, I stand, with my family, facing an uncertain future, at best. Reading this, by Mr. Wilson, underscores the resonance of the immigrant experience, (can those who were brought here unwillingly be called immigrants? Probably not.) and calls me to compassion and generosity in this current call for IN-clusivity, and the right of all men and women to breathe free in pursuit of their dream.
If only mom would read this post, I’m sure she’d have something to say!