From And She Would Stand Like This. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
Lately, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, has been researching the early formation of the blues, in the years 1870 to 1910. His studies led him to an old newspaper from his own town in North Carolina, but nearly every edition of the paper had vanished. Now he and his colleague Joel Finsel have organized a group of middle schoolers to find and transcribe surviving copies. In John’s words: “The Wilmington Daily Record, a seminal African American newspaper (the offices of which were torched during a violent white-supremacist uprising here in 1898), has always been known to history and considered important, either inspiring or infamous depending who was talking. But for all practical archival purposes, it didn’t exist. You couldn’t read it, even if you had access to the fanciest academic databases and things. That was a very specific historical problem that we set out to solve. And we did find some copies. The most exciting moment was when Jan Davidson, the historian at our local historical museum, realized she had three copies of the paper in the basement of the museum!” John’s discoveries haven’t been limited to Wilmington. He recently struck gold in Indiana, too: “I knew that the songwriter Paul Dresser had once been in love with a woman named Sal, an Indiana madam, and that she’d inspired his famous song ‘My Gal Sal,’ which I wanted to know more about for a piece about Dresser that ran in the Sewanee Review. Anyway, as I’m reading around in the Evansville Courier and Press for the 1870s and eighties, I start seeing references to ‘bagnios,’ one of the period euphemisms for brothels, and then to a person called Sallie Davis, who supposedly kept the nicest one in town, and finally to ‘Sal’s place,’ as shorthand for the same establishment. On further inquiry, the woman’s real name turned out to be Annie, just like Paul Dresser’s brother had always said it was, the brother being Theodore Dreiser.” —Lorin Stein
Friday night, I was in the presence of realness, fierceness, and royalty. I sat front row for And She Would Stand Like This, a theatrical retelling of Euripides’s The Trojan Women by Harrison David Rivers. Making use of drag and ball culture, the play, directed by David Mendizábal, reimagines the Trojan women as black and Latinx queer men and transgender women. It is set in a hospital waiting room, where an unnamed virus ambiguously fills the role of the warring Greeks, pitiless and destructive. By leaving the virus unnamed, Rivers renders timeless the early days of AIDS, reminding those who need reminding that there are still waiting rooms where doctors face queer and transgender populations with uncertainty, especially when these patients are people of color. The play beautifully complicates the essential trauma of kinship, love, and belonging with several times the body glitter and melanin of Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim. Rivers and the talented cast use chorus, repetition, and performance to their highest level of impact. The play turns masterfully on its platform stilettos, delivering triumphant choreography by the supreme Kia LaBeija and somber tragedy worthy of, well, the ancient Greeks. Performances are through Sunday, but RuPaul has already tweeted an endorsement, so act fast. —Julia Berick Read More