Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Interconnectedness & "The Struggle"

Paper Dolls, written by Elaine Jackson, centers around two aging black beauty queens who return to judge an international beauty contest fifty years after their wins at the Miss Emancipation of 1930 beauty contest. The whole show involves the two actors, joined by two men and two women, reliving scenes from their past and relying heavily on the minstrel show influences. These are two women who have often times unwillingly (and willingly) played into the stereotypical images of black women portrayed by the television and film industries of that time period. Both women talk about things they did to make themselves prettier by white standards. Margret-Elizabeth states that, "...Everytime I washed my face I would leave lots of soap on my nose and let it dry while I pinched my nose--and, voila!--my nose would stand up. Lizzie counters with, "...Well...I pinched my mouth. My mother taught me how to do it. You can make your lips smaller if you tighten them over your teeth like this."
They both, however, have this desire to rewrite the often bitter experiences of their lives. Margaret-Elizabeth, throughout the play, begins to realize that most of her life has been spent in dreamy bubble of deceit. It seems difficult for her to take a sharp analysis of how lying about her age and being willing to "play along" with racist stereotypes has not gotten her many of the things she always desired, like respect or love. It isn't until Act Two that Margaret-Elizabeth is able to open up about her childhood and the beginning of her struggle to find her identity. Margaret-Elizabeth states, "...When I was thirteen years old, my mother went around telling everyone I was nine. When I was sixteen, she told people I was twelve! I've lived my whole life never experiencing my true age. I wore ribbons in my hair until I was thirty-five years old! Mother said, 'When you're young, people allow you to make mistakes. They forgive you.'"
One of the most interesting aspects of this play is that though the central theme hinges on race, the themes surrounding the idea of what to do when youthful beauty and innocence end are just as poignant. Is there such a thing as aging beautifully, and how do we as individuals learn to cope with all of the disappointments in life that, unlike in this play, we cannot relive and rewrite? I found it a very humorous, interesting, and ultimately a sobering read.

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