by Michael Bowen & r & 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & isten up: Brilliant writer -- Mount Holyoke, MacArthur genius grant, Pulitzer Prize, she's da bomb, all right? -- lives with her cats and her blues-musician husband in Venice (that's L.A.'s Venice), wakes up on Nov. 13, 2002, decides it'd be a good idea to write a play every day for a year (no exceptions), and she's honing her craft but this is also the run-up to the war in Iraq so of course a lot of her one-page sketches bash Bush real good; husband says "cool," next thing you know there are theaters doing weeks and months of her 365-play cycle all over the country. (Got it goin' on right now in Seattle.) But in the meantime, you can enjoy this book -- which has its bland patches, sure (I sympathize with whoever has to perform the September plays) -- but Suzan-Lori Parks didn't learn from James Baldwin how to write drama like Topdog/Underdog for nothin'. At their best, Parks' playlets are miniature lessons in how to write for the stage.
Parks has her fixations -- Abraham Lincoln (he lived to age 89!); arms that are frozen before the knife can kill; racial injustice; literalized metaphors (an actual Window of Opportunity that actually closes shut); stage directions that can never be enacted; playing possum; plutocracy ("The Presidents Day Sale"); asshole warmonger dictators -- but it's interesting to watch her ring her themes' changes.
Many plays are startling and compact, with topics like watching over a sleeping stranger as an image of compassion ("The 1st Constant"); spoofing Neil Simon ("Barefoot and Pregnant in the Park"); Bush murdering his own soldier and calling it "poignant" ("House to House"); mothers protecting and relinquishing their children ("Behind the Veil of the Goddess"); breaking the cycle of poverty and crime ("My Father Was a Famous Mother"); women and men always failing to get along ("Epic Bio-Pic," "Vase" and "Bear"); depicting suicidal despair and its cure ("Plenty"); and ridiculing sectarian war ("Everybody's Got an Aunt Jemimah").
Some plays overlap; some plays interrupt others; and some of Suzan-Lori Parks' plays stretch people's minds out to infinity.