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Reviewed by:
  • Contemporary Plays by Women of Color
  • Judith Williams
Contemporary Plays by Women of Color. Edited by Kathy A. Perkins and Roberta Uno. London: Routledge, 1996; pp. ix + 323. $59.95 cloth, $18.95 paper.

Although multiculturalism may have had its vogue, the problems that it revealed have not disappeared. In Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s words:

The social and ethnic fabric of the United States is filled with interstitial wounds, invisible to those who didn’t experience the events that generated them, or who are victimized by historical amnesia. Those who cannot see these wounds feel frustrated by the hardships of intercultural dialogue. Intercultural dialogue unleashes the demons of history.

[“The Multi-Cultural Paradigm: An Open Letter to the National Arts Community,” in Negotiating Performance: Gender, Sexuality and Theatricality in Latin/o America, ed. Diana Taylor and Juan Villegas

(Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), 19]

Contemporary Plays by Women of Color, creates an implicit dialogue among playwrights of color, revealing their “wounds,” the diverse spaces they occupy, and their knowledge of how issues of race and ethnicity are always complicated by gender. The volume includes a balanced selection of plays by African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latina Women. Uno explains in her introduction that the editors

were struck by the recurrence of certain themes: violence against women, response to media and historical stereotypical images, identity formation, the impact of poverty on individuals, families, and communities; the relationship of woman to her body, the relationship of women to each other, the response of a given community to crisis.


Despite these common themes and Una’s suggestion of links between specific plays in her introduction, the editors chose to organize this anthology— [End Page 138] which displays a wide range in form, content, and quality—alphabetically by author rather than thematically. Each play is prefaced by a biographical sketch of the playwright, a production history, and an artistic statement.

With the exception of Anne Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 and Marga Gomez’s Memory Tricks, Marga Gomez is Pretty Witty and Gay, and A Line Around the Block, the plays are presented in their entirety. With Gomez’s work this condensation of the trio of plays, which Uno describes as a “comment upon the formation and re-formation of identity” (11), is a profound loss. Gomez presents affectionate and humorous portraits of her parents in A Line Around the Block and Memory Tricks, both of which would have been better served by a longer presentation. The excerpts, all from Gomez’s solo performances, are rich and interesting as well as hilarious. The longest excerpt, from Marga Gomez is Pretty Witty and Gay takes a comic look at Gomez herself. Gomez is able to go from positive and perky to bitter and pathetic in her critique of society’s treatment of lesbians and gays.

Like Gomez, Glenda Dickerson and Breena Clark in Re(membering) Aunt Jemima: A Menstrual Show and Diana Son in R.A.W. (‘Cause I’m a Woman) use humor to undercut stereotype. Dickerson and Clark outline the permutations of the Aunt Jemima figure, attempting to negotiate the tenuous balance between reinscribing and reconfiguring the stereotype. Clark states:

Though today most people abhor Aunt Jemima as the ultimate degrading stereotype of African-American women, we see her as an icon rooted in the ancient tradition of household orisha. We liken her to the santeria figure La Madama, the orisha who fearlessly guards the peace of our homes as she presides over our bread-baking and clothe-making.


Despite her insistence that “Aunt Jemima is not a joke to us” (34), the play itself is extremely funny.

Diana Son’s R.A.W. (‘Cause I’m a Woman) is a compelling work that successfully combats the overdetermined stereotypes of Asian women. Son wryly suggests that “My face promises an exotic background, one with majestic mountains, spicy peasant food, primitive outdoor markets and colorful dresses” (289) even while her home and upbringing locate her firmly in the mundane environs of the United States. In R.A.W., Son creates four nameless Asian women who tell their stories and assert their individuality. Although...

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pp. 138-139
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