Main Entry: thau·ma·turg
Etymology: French, from New Latin thaumaturgus, from Greek thaumatourgos working miracles, from thaumat-, thauma miracle + ergon work — more at Theater, Work
The official blog of the Dramaturgy Department at Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE. For posts related to our current and upcoming shows, click the links to the right. Alternatively, you could begin at the beginning, and explore our posts in chronological order.
By Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner
Based on Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Directed by Marion McClinton
Jan 4–Feb 5, 2012
At 16, Janie Mae Crawford faces a marriage of convenience and a life of quiet drudgery. Instead, she embarks on a journey that brings successes and losses enough for several lifetimes—a passage to fulfillment so singular that it manages to speak for all of our dreams. This soaring saga brings to life the vivid characters of Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved novel, a shining jewel of the Harlem Renaissance by one of America’s literary giants.
Epic in its scope, Gleam—like the novel that inspired it—spans three decades of American history and encompasses life-changing, epoch-shaping events. Our heroine transits the Depression-era South, survives a cataclysmic flood, helps to found a historic town, loves and loses, rises and falls. At the same time, drawing from the life and loves and longings of Hurston herself, the story delves deeply into the most personal and intimate of journeys, Janie’s inward growth.
While that journey may seem geographically circular, in that Janie arrives back at the town where she started, it no more repeats than any life lived richly and fully ever can. A girl left town—eager, ambitious, curious, vital, but a girl nevertheless—and it is a woman who returns, full of everything pleasant, powerful, and painful that the eventful passage of years can provide. Nor is Gleam the story of one woman only; while we follow Janie’s saga, we hear it through the voice of her life-long friend Pheoby. Along the way we come to know the men she loves, the communities that shape her, and the world she encounters. By the end, we see a rich picture of an inner landscape and the broad panoply of far horizons.
Their Eyes Were Watching God—published in 1937 but largely ignored for decades after—remains a crowning achievement: not just of the impressively varied career of Zora Neale Hurston, nor simply of African American artistry, but also of 20th-century American literature in general. Briefly controversial when originally issued, the novel was then overlooked for nearly 40 years, until a belated rediscovery and revival began in the 1970s that has continued, unabated, to this day. Equally, Hurston, an indomitable pioneer in so many ways, slipped into obscurity after her death—even her grave abandoned and unmarked until Alice Walker made it the object of a celebrate quest in 1973.
Fittingly, perhaps, when Gleam opens at CENTERSTAGE on January 4th, it will also mark a significant milestone in the life of this play. Nearly 30 years after its first performance, the work will enjoy only its third full production. Playwright Rattner first discovered Hurston while a student at Michigan’s Wayne State University, where she decided to adapt the novel for the stage as her Master’s thesis. A complicated and sometimes torturous saga followed, which culminated in the show premiering first at the University’s Hilberry Rep, then at the landmark Crossroads Theater—garnering critical raves in the process. Along the way, it received a prestigious award from the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays. Many readings and workshops followed, attracting a constellation of world-class talent; but only now, three decades later, is the ambitious adaptation at last returning to the stage.
“There is no book more important to me than this one.”—Alice Walker
“Their Eyes Were Watching God belongs in the same category with [the works of] William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, that of enduring American literature.”—Saturday Review
It’s currently Monday night, March 1st. Tomorrow brings final dress rehearsal for “Working It Out,” and Wednesday is the first public preview. Outlines of the show are strong and clear, but among pending questions is whether or not to divide the evening with an intermission. It’s sort of on the cusp right now. So, if you’re following us and in the area, why not plan on coming by Tuesday at 7.30 as part of our invited dress (yes, if you follow our Thaumaturgy tumblr, consider this your official invitation to be part of the process itself by coming to the final dress), or pick up tickets for the first preview. The director plans to ask the audience to weigh in on the intermission question, so this is your chance to make a difference.