Title: "Moon Marked and Touched by Sun"Editor: Sydne...

BOOK BRIEFS

April 24, 1994|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK Title: "Deadline Poet: My Life as a Doggerelist" Author: Calvin Trillin Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Length, price: 196 pages, $18 | J. WYNN ROUSUCK Title: "Deadline Poet: My Life as a Doggerelist" Author: Calvin Trillin Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Length, price: 196 pages, $18,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Title: "Moon Marked and Touched by Sun"

Editor: Sydne Mahone

Publisher: Theatre Communications Group

Length, price: 406 pages, $15.95 In the introduction to this first-ever anthology of scripts by contemporary black American women playwrights, editor Sydne Mahone contends that these writers are "on the edge, scrawling in the margins of today's mainstream theatre."

This collection of works by 11 writers should make those margins a better-known place. And, the imagination and diversity represented by Mahone's selections leave no doubt that the margins can often be more interesting than the mainstream.

Among the standout selections are the excerpts from Baltimore native Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman show, "Fires in the Mirror," which is itself an anthology of verbatim interviews with observers and participants in 1991 riots in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Her first interviewee is playwright Ntozake Shange, whose work is also included in this volume, in the form of script-like passages from a forthcoming novel, "The Resurrection of the Daughter: Liliane," which she is adapting for the stage.

While Ms. Smith's journalistic-style "Fires" and Ms. Shange's confessional "Liliane" are among the collection's most accessible scripts, the least accessible is Suzan-Lori Parks' "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World." However, if you read her words aloud, you discover a form of playwriting that exults in the oral tradition, demonstrating the genesis of tall tales at the same time that it revels in the musical sounds of the words.

But as the process of reading aloud suggests, these scripts -- like most plays -- truly come to life only in performance. "Moon Marked" is a significant step in increasing recognition of black women playwrights, but it will be of even more significance if it helps inspire future productions.

@ Imagine persuading your boss (in Calvin Trillin's case, the "wily and parsimonious" Victor S. Navasky, editor of the Nation) to let you write a poem a week on whatever piece of current events finds itself stuck in your craw. Sure, it took Mr. Trillin's agent, Robert "Slowly" Lescher, to work Mr. Navasky up to 100 bucks a poem, only because they were written on Sunday -- time and a half -- and only if Mr. Trillin promised not to "tell any of the real poets that he was getting that much."

Since 1990, we the public have been blessed with Mr. Trillin's wisdom, beginning with the now-famous poem, "If You Knew What Sununu," moving on to David Duke (It's funny who you meet/By peeking 'neath the sheet), to Clarence Thomas in "The Supremes":

Well, first they found a woman who's really not so sure

Abortion's for a woman to decide.

And then they got a black man who thinks that

L Special help for black folks should be canceled countrywide.

L They're looking for a Jewish judge who really sees the point

Of keeping Jews away from one's resort.

And then a smart Latino who'd like the border closed.

At last we'll have a truly balanced Court.

Republicans are funnier to Mr. Trillin than the Democrats, and at times he seems to long for the Reagan era, or Bush and Quayle ("In 1988 my suggestion that we pass a constitutional amendment making a C average a requirement for the presidency was widely viewed as an attack on Dan Quayle"). Democrats he finds a little bland and ordinary:

Clinton and Gore, Clinton and Gore --

Both of them born since the war!

. . . Baby boomers, baby boomers, yes, yes, yes.

Both these guys know how to dress.

But perhaps the most useful tool for measuring history that Mr. Trillin has given us thus far is the ML -- a unit of measurement equal to the combined theorizing of one panel discussion of specialists on the "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour."

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