The Provenance of Beauty
October 21, 2009
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing (riding) my friend Claudia Rankine’s play, The Provenance of Beauty, performed on a bus that left from a small Spanish Harlem church (with a female pastor!) and took a load of us theater-lovers around the sundry sites of the South Bronx.
Relayed by three actors (2 women, 1 man; 2 canned on earphones, 1 performing live on the bus), the voice was all Claudia: wise, well-read, informative, concrete. She makes poetic aphorism of ideas, facts and feelings of place and its loss, gentrification, and the human will to know and not to see. We learn about Bronx history, asthma rates, artists’ interventions, and the living, breathing will to continue of the place itself.
Sitting on the bus, window between you and the rush and ruin, raises unavoidable issues of distance and proximity: how close and far the Bronx is from Manhattan, the tourists are to the pedestrians, theater is to life, and collapse is to renewal. The piece is all openness (as we flow through the streets, seen but unseen) and constraint (the Bronx is framed by glass as well as poverty, as much as by Rankine’s steady flow of hypnotic monologue). To read it (or see it) will never be to know it.