Culpability

Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge is at least the third example in six months of artists using their latest work to stage explicit self-castigations of their own past work.

First came Arden, a devised production from The Flea’s braintrust and esteemed collaborators that seemed inspired by and a response to the many accusations lobbed at the theater over the years.

The movie Sell/Buy/Date strikes a similarly confessional and autobiographical chord by telling the story of its own creation. The initial announcement that Sarah Jones’ one-woman play-of-the-same-name would be faithfully adapted for the screen was met with vocal opposition. The movie charts Jones’ initial rejection of these protestors’ arguments, and how she ultimately came to allow their points to radically reshape her original play into the very-different movie before us.

And then there’s the aforementioned Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge at The Public. After performing the verbatim text of the titular debate, the actor playing Baldwin (Greig Sargeant) is joined on stage by an actor playing Lorraine Hansberry (Daphne Gaines), and they eventually break character to launch into a conversation about the previous racial mistakes committed by Elevator Repair Service, the very company responsible for this production.

Which brings us to an interesting juxtaposition:

Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge adds this 2022-minded coda to the original debate, whereas the american vicarious’ strictly verbatim take on the same debate — aptly titled Debate: Baldwin vs Buckley, now touring NYC — lops off the coda that concludes most live performances: a curtain call.

It’s assumed that curtain calls occur in our 2022 reality; a production drops its commitment to maintaining the illusion of its manufactured reality in order to give the audience a chance to audibly respond to the show and those involved.

Debate is one of four recent productions that went with this curtain called off approach, along with iNegro, a rhapsody at the New Ohio, Confederates at Signature, and Tambo & Bones at Playwrights Horizons.

A decision that begs the audience to ponder: why did their creators feel like the given conditions of a curtain call wouldn’t strike the aptest final note for their specific material?


Lorraine Hansberry is finishing off a trifurcated moment at The Public: on stage in one play, the writer of a play on another stage, all while her bust chills outside the theater.

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