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The anthology Suzan-Lori Parks: Essays on the Plays and Other Works offers new perspectives to the growing body of scholarship about Parks’s artistic achievements. The text features a contextualizing preface and twelve new essays about her plays, novel, and screenplays. It also contains two new interviews, one with Parks herself and another with her longtime friend and collaborator, director Liz Diamond, as well as a timeline featuring major productions of her works from her first play reading in 1984, to projects anticipated for future production on stage and screen. While Parks’s works, and works on Parks are widely anthologized in other collections, this group of offerings reaches back to early works such as Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1989), and forward to the most recent and radically inclusive project 365 Days/365 Plays (2006-07). In doing so, this text [End Page 669] provides a scope and perspective not heretofore achieved in other texts dedicated to Suzan-Lori Parks.
The preface and first essay, both written by editor Philip C. Kolin, provide an introductory overview of the collection’s content and organization and offer background information and theoretical insights helpful for approaching and understanding Parks’s works. Kolin observes that like Shakespeare’s Puck, “Parks uses spells, fantastical shapes, and frightful pageants to express and probe the collective unconscious of her characters, and of her audience as well” (7). He underscores the need for another collection on Parks by highlighting the myriad of under-examined aspects of her works, such as the many intertextual references and relationships between Parks’s plays themselves and with other works, including plays by earlier African American female writers and classical works from Greek drama to mythology. Rena Fraden provides further theorization of Parks’s œuvre by addressing the recurring themes in the plays (digging, history, race, sex, family, identity), the notion of radical inclusion practiced in 365 Days/365 Plays, and Parks’s dramaturgical dedication to what Fraden describes as “religious universalism. The discipline of writing binds her and also ties her to communities of other writers, and their imaginations, to citizens from all cities, states, and nations” (23). Jacqueline Wood addresses Parks’s earliest plays by offering a reading of Betting on the Dust Commander, Pickling, and Devotees in the Garden of Love through the lenses of Beckett’s interrogation of time and Brecht’s deconstructive use of space and staging. Through this analysis, Wood uncovers Parks’s “interrogations of African American female selfhood in relation to time and memory, black men, and social tradition” (35). This reading furthers scholarship on these earlier plays, and helps to trace the initial development of Parks’s much-lauded, jazz-influenced writing style. Nicole Hodges Persley provides a refreshing contrasting reading of Parks’s history plays by suggesting that her musicality and self-described practice of “Rep & Rev,” or repetition and revision, be read not only as jazz improvisations, but also as the practice of sampling and remixing themes, historical events, and figures, as practiced in hip hop. Persley’s “identification of these themes and samples show the relevance of Parks’s history plays to Hip Hop and the ways that ‘Rep & Rev‘ strategies are replayed in the present discourse of sampling as it relates to Hip Hop music and culture” (67).
The next several essays focus on some of Parks’s most critically acclaimed works. Shawn-Marie Garrett provides a detailed history of the 1996 premiere of Venus, and the working relationship between Parks and the production’s director, Richard Foreman. Garrett argues for the integration of love “as a category for critical analysis” (77) and the thematic glue for this production, which was a meeting of opposites between Parks, whose works constantly morph to accommodate the characters and themes she tackles in each script, and Foreman, who is methodically deliberate about the Brechtian aesthetic of his productions. Garrett ultimately argues that love has been overlooked by scholars and critics “in the wake of viewing Foreman’s production which, though spectacular, was...