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Restaging the Nation: The Work of Suzan-Lori Parks S.E. WILMER In discussing the work of postcolonial writers, Homi Bhabha has observed that "the peoples of the periphery return to rewrite the history and fiction of the metropolis" ("Narrating" 6): While Bhabha is mainly discussing the periphery versus the metropolis within the former British Empire, and while his focus is on fiction, recent American theatre has produced a parallel movement , with formerly marginalized groups claiming centre stage in a multicultural society by placing the formerly offstage voices onstage. Such authors as Anna Deavere Smith (Fires in the Mirror and Twilight Los Angeles, [992), Tony Kushner (Angels in America), and Suzan-Lori Parks (Imperceptible Mutabilities, The Last Black Man ill the Whole Entire World, and The America Play) have displaced dominant notions of national identity (such as e pluribus unum, which claimed a united whole but really included only parts of that whole) with novel images of a fragmented society. In particular, Suzan-Lori Parks adopts a postcolonial perspective by positioning AfricanAmericans as a formerly colonized people - so that, rather than their lands being occupied by colonial powers, slave traders could be said to have colonized their bodies, deporting them from their native land, enslaving them, depriving them of their families, their language, and their culture - and as a people who, having lost their roots, their identity, and their self-esteem, remain alienated in the modem American metropolis. In this article, I will examine how Suzan-Lori Parks has deconstructed conventional American history through her theatrical redeployment of space and time and refigured African-American identity by re/making African-American history. Suzan-Lori Parks is an African-American writer in her mid-thirties who has appeared in the 1990S as a major voice in the theatre. Her most notable plays are Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, which was staged at an off-Broadway theatre, the BACA in downtown Brooklyn, in 1989; The Death of the Lost Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The America Play, Modern Drama, 43 (Fall 2000) 442 Suzan-Lori Parks 443 and Venus, which were staged at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1992, 1994, and 1996 respectively; and, most recently, In the Blood, which opened offBroadway in 1999. Unlike many African-American dramatists (such as August Wilson) who create realistic characters and situations, Parks employs a postmodem style. In this essay I will look at several features of her work. First, Parks uses space simultaneously as a great void and as a multiplicity of co-present locations. Second, her characters overlap, thereby creating both a spatial co-presence and a suspension of historical time. Third, displacement and emigration occur not only in space but also in time as the characters seem to emigrate from the past. Fourth, a concept of monumental time replaces linearity, underwriting Parks's various mises en scene. Finally, I will show that despite adopting a postmodem style, Parks takes an ethical stance, paying respect to those who have disappeared by re/making and staging their histories. Parks's work helps to exemplify Frederic Jameson's proposition that space provides the dominant category for the experience of the postmodem (154).' Her plays transpose various registers of postmodem experience to a set of spatial relationships. In The America Play, Parks stages "the great hole of history " as a symbol for an absence, in particular the absence of AfricanAmerican history. But all history and the recounting of events seem arbitrary and unstable in Parks's work. Factual occurrence seems to disappear as it is buried under its retelling, slipping into the great hole. Ironically, Parks puts historical footnotes in the text but undercuts this gesture to historical verification . The footnotes become less reliable and more inventive as The America Play progresses. The stage takes over as the place for the rewriting of history, merging the fictional and the symbolic with the actual. In her 1994 essay "Possession," she writes that (a] play is a blueprint of an event: a way ofcreating and rewriting history through Ihe,medium of literature. Since history is a recorded or remembered event, thearre, for me, is the perfect place to "make" history - that is. because so much...


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pp. 442-452
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