Every day since November 13, 2006, a tiny percentage of the population of Seattle has been subjected to an unexpected short play in an unexpected place: a cafe, a bar, a skating rink, a parking lot. The populations of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and a few other cities have also been subjected to the plays, usually no more than a few seconds long, and all by Suzan-Lori Parks, the author of Fucking A, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, and Topdog/Underdog, for which she won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The project is called 365 Days/365 Plays and the name tells all. They're short pieces, most concern war or race, and some have no text at all. In one, a boy stands on his front lawn and signals "help" by semaphore with two American flags while his father wonders aloud if the child is gay. In another, El Silencio Grande (a giant man, "arms akimbo") stands silent while two tourists wonder if he can speak English and, if he can't, what this country is coming to.
Last week, Our American Theater Company gathered at a bar, the Hideout, to perform A Play for Barry White. The theater people more than tripled the afternoon's built-in clientele: one woman sitting alone with her martini and two men, one drinking what looked like a cosmopolitan, the other drinking a something-and-Coke. Affiliated friends and family shuffled in, bought drinks, and started on the small talk. Director Gavin Cummins whispered that the play was about to begin.
A white woman sat against the wall with a glass of red wine, her head in her hands. A black man walked out and started spinning in place. She was the Mourner. He was the World. A Barry White song came over the speakers and the Mourner said that Barry White had died and asked the World to stop spinning. The World refused. Then it was over.
"So what the play's saying is that the world didn't stop turning when Barry White died?" someone asked. "No, but it wobbled a little bit on its axis," another answered. Then the conversation was over.
The 365 project hasn't made much of a dent in the public's consciousness. Besides a few descriptive newspaper articles, nobody's had much to say about this theater of evanescence. I guessed, in a column on the day after the project started, that the accumulated weight of 365 tiny plays would give the project a mythic quality. I hadn't read them then, but I've seen a couple dozen since and they don't amount to much. The plays are slight, wispy things that don't stick. They don't ask for comment.
Later in the evening, the bar was packed with unaffiliated drinkers. "I saw a play in here tonight," I told a friend. "One of those 365 plays." He nodded, smiled, and changed the subject.