Let’s cut to the chase: I am a black female professional who is a faithful viewer of Bob Mondello on WETA, and I have never before responded to a review.What compels me to write is that Mondello’s review of Oak and Ivy (“Heroic Couplet,” 2/26) conveyed a negative impression of the play. I fear that his review may cause legitimate and first-time theatergoers to decline a very wonderful theater experience.
Now to the critique: Oak and Ivy is a fabulous play, and the production is most ingenious. Those flying screens of which Mondello complains are, in my opinion, effective segues from scene to scene. However, it is his opinion that the second act lacks dramatic tension that is most unfair. No one should be able to impugn a playwright’s dramaturgy by questioning the authenticity of her experience. No one says that The Diary of Anne Frank should have gone into greater detail about the impact of Nazism on Anne’s family life. Nor does one encounter negative criticism of A Doll’s House for Ibsen’s failure to sufficiently connect Nora’s marital claustrophobia to prevailing socioeconomic conditions in Sweden. For those of us who have chosen to embrace our black heritage, the dialectic of the class difference of color becomes a moot pointimmediately reconciled by that choice.
I offer to Mondello the words of Alice Walker: “The hell with writing about what [you] want me to write about;
I’m going to write about what I know.”
Let’s get it straight: Black culture is not solely about struggle against the “Man.” A black woman’s marriage
can legitimately deteriorate because her creative urges go unfulfilled, rather than because her chauvinist husband experiences racism in society. There is real dramatic tension in this contradiction. Ask any woman who has ever been married. The fact that Paul is “black as coal” is irrelevant to Alice’s need to create.
I say bravo to Molly Smith for recognizing the dramatic tension in this play. My newlywed son and daughter-in-law, who attended the play with me, were enabled to have their first argument over who was the more sympathetic character. My 14-year-old was mortified that Alice left Paul while he was ill with tuberculosis. I say, if the play evoked these responses from these guys, Mondello ought to have gotten it, too. In failing to judge the play on its merits, as opposed to his erroneous view of history, Mondello fails, in the words of American Society of Newspaper Editors award winner Deneen L. Brown, “to recognize the complexity that humans have.”
Takoma Park, Md.