New play about women has a message for men

WILEY A. HALL

November 10, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

I counted six male characters in "Sittin' with the Sisters," a new drama by aspiring local playwright Kevin Brown -- and not one of those men was worth a darn.

One character was an alcoholic and a rapist. Another gambled. A third couldn't hold a job. The men in this play shucked and they jived. They whined and they blustered. They ducked responsibility and they refused to make commitments. They were fools and cheats and wastrels and scoundrels and, generally, they made the women in their lives miserable.

"This is very much a play written from the woman's point of view," explains Mr. Brown. "I'm not sure the brothers will appreciate it."

Actually, I found "Sittin' with the Sisters" to be a very powerful drama, both funny and heart-breaking. It spoke to me about the prickly, love-hate relationships in families and about how family traditions can be both tyrannical and a source of strength. I recommend it. It will be at the Helfrich Theater, in the 1000 block of Cathedral St., through Nov 22.

Mr. Brown, 32, a former editorial assistant with The Sun, recently resigned from the publicity department of the Baltimore Center for Performing Arts to pursue his writing career full-time.

And he is right about his new play. Above all, this is a woman's story in the tradition of Terry McMillan's best-selling novel, "Waiting to Exhale"; Gloria Naylor's novel, "The Women of Brewster Place"; and Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Color Purple."

All these stories talk about women who realize that much of their personal identity has been centered on the men in their lives and that those men have let them down.

The stories talk about how women must learn to draw upon the strength of their sisters and establish new identities grounded in a new-found sense of self-esteem. The stories are part of a phenomenon -- evident in literature, music, cinema and everyday conversation by everyday people -- that has been called "male-bashing."

I call it the "All Men Are Dogs" movement.

These stories do not really depict men as dogs, of course. They simply warn women not to seek to find themselves through a man. But in making this point, many of these stories portray men, particularly black men, as shiftless and undependable.

What's missing is the other side of the story.

Many men are indeed shiftless, confused, and miserable. Many men drink. Some are abusive. Others are unwilling, afraid, or just plain unable to enter into a meaningful relationship. But there is a reason for this turmoil.

The black community is in the midst of its worst economic drought since the Great Depression. Unemployment among young men may be higher than it has been at any time since slavery, according to some studies.

Those black men with the education and training to enter the professional ranks often find themselves isolated in hostile work environments, their advancement curtailed by a glass ceiling.

When you consider that our society defines manhood by income and position and social power, it is little wonder that men seem so messed up and that their relationships with women have become so stormy.

Obviously, men have as big a need to redefine themselves on their own terms as do women.

But how? We pay a lot of lip service to building self-esteem in young black men, yet most such attempts continue to define manhood through socio-economic status. We merely try to give young blacks the self-confidence that they need to achieve high status and income for themselves.

What we need is an artistic movement -- novels, plays, music -- that chronicles any man's search for identity and self-fulfillment. Such a story would allow men to see how self-destructive it is to tie one's identity to the ability to earn money.

It would not be a "woman-bashing" story, of course, but it would describe how men often seek fulfillment through relationships with women only to feel betrayed in the end.

People tell me I should write such a story myself. And maybe I will, someday. Maybe I will.

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