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Ed Bullins (2)

Ed Bullins (2)

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Published by: Blanche DuBois on Feb 24, 2011
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A. BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION As the author of more than thirty plays, Bullins is regarded as one of the most significant playwrights to emerge from the Black Power Movement. Considered one of the most prolific and influential playwrights, producers, essayists, and short story writers. Ed Bullins was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Bertha Marie Queen and Edward Bullins. Shortly after quitting high school, Bullins joined the navy but later returned to Philadelphia to complete his secondary education. Bullins is always a moralist; he probes and questions clichés, accepted values, stereotypes, and romantic illusions to test what is of value in them. His basic concern is with black people, their values, aspirations, dreams. Constant in his work is a questioning of the meaning of the idea of a people, a community, and its various definitions: the ideological definitions generated by the black nationalist movement of the 1960s and early 1970s; the traditional definitions of family and kinship networks; street definitions evolved from the partnerships and loyalties of neighborhood and street life; the looser definition suggested simply by the phrase with which he often concludes his list of characters: ³the people in this play are Black.´ A wanderer himself, Bullins sets his plays all over the United States: Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Newport, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. However, geography in Bullin's plays is superseded by a more important location, the black nation which exists wherever black people are. They, and Bullins, create an imaginative and subjective sense of

place through their music, language, and perceptions of the world. they transform geographic place into their own territory. Bullins frequently asserts he does not write realistic plays, regardless of the style in which they are written. For example, his characters frequently drift freely between time frames, ore ven step out of the play to address the audience; Bullins knows it is on such imaginative realities that not only a culture but also a political and social identity can be built. Intrinsic in the imaginative world of a Bullins play is black music: it is always either coming from a radio or from an actual combo which sits on the stage and even takes part in the action. Jazz, blues (for which he often writes the lyrics), and gospel music become the context for this characters' activities, providing another dimension to their meaning. Language, too, provides more than realistic detail; it defines the sensibility of his people. In Bullins¶ plays, black street argot becomes lyrical without losing any of its energy and edge. Moreover, his plays are often punctuated by long monologues through which characters define themselves with a precision made possible by Bullins perfect ear. In fact, two of his plays, Street Sounds (produced in 1970) and its spin-off House Party, a Soul happening (produced in 1973) consist entirely of monologues through which the mosaic of the black community emerges. When Bullins edited Drama Review's black theater issue, he divided the plays into two groups: ³Black Revolutionary Theatre,´ under which heading he placed plays depicting racial conflict, often literal racial warfare, and ³Theatre of Black Experience,´ in which group he placed his own Clara's Ole Man. Bullins has written in both modes; however, his plays differ radically from the work of Baraka, Ben Caldwell, Marvin X, Sonia Sanchez, Herbert Stokes, and Jimmie Garrett. Bullins has greatly influenced American theatre and literature. His work, characterized by a disdain for ineffective political rhetoric as a substitute for action, most often examines

the lives of black people in iner-city ghettos and offers the audience the opportunity to interact verbally with the actors. Formal critical response to Bullins¶ work is as yet sparse; theater reviews²most of them enthusiastic²still constitute almost all of the commentary on his plays. He is most frequently praised for his language, power of observation, humor, and veracity. The structural techniques of Bullins¶ plays most frequently disturb critics who feel his episodic vignettes, central use of party, and the monologues in particular leave the plays unfocused. But all agree that, in Clive Barnes¶ words, he ³writes like an angel.´ A central figure for the black arts movement of the 196os and 1970s, Bullins, however, avoided making theoretical statements to which other leading figures of the movement turned in seeking a rationale for the new writing and daring theater that the movement produced. Although hard on his characters who are cultural nationalists, Bullins does not criticize their beliefs, but rather their substituting rhetoric for art, for the actual creation of new cultural and social realities. Moreover, if one must label Bullins, the most accurate one is that of cultural nationalist, for the effect of his work is to give substance to the theory, to make possible a definition of cultural nationalism that has not yet been proposed. A national culture exists when the artists of a nation have created a world of the imagination. They have succeeded in giving the people of the nation an extended artistic reference point, a mirror as well as a picture of their possibilities, creative means for extending their personal, social and political sense of themselves. Black music has always performed this service for black Americans; black writers and visual artists have only recently begun to do so. Bullins consciously and carefully seeks to create a counterpart to black music: a world his audience can visit and revisit, in which they can see themselves, from which they can draw sustenance, through which they are challenged

to create themselves anew. Black music is merely the ground, the setting, and the structure of Bullins¶ work: it provides its most telling analogue.


Bullins has written more than fifty plays; over forty of them were professionally produced. His work has progressed through a book of short stories:

Books The Reluctant Rapist. New York: Harper, 1973. Plays Clara¶s Ole Man. San Francisco: Firehouse Repertory Theatre, 1965. The Corner. Boston: Theatre Company of Boston, 1968. The Electronic Nigger. New York: American Place Theatre, 1968. Goin¶ a Buffalo. New York: American Place Theatre, 1968. In the Wine Time. New York: New Lafayette Theatre, 1968 The Gentleman Caller. New York: Chelsea Theatre Center, 1969. In New England Winter. New York: Henry Street Settlement¶s New Federal Theatre, 1969. The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements. New York: New Lafayette Theatre, 1970. The Fabulous Miss Marie. New York: New Lafayette Theatre, 1971. The Taking of Miss Janie. New York: Henry Street Settlement¶s New Federal Theatre, 1975. Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam. New York: Ensemble Studio Theatre, 1991.


Bullins's work is concerned with the candid depiction of the African American experience. To this end, Bullins has created a body of work which falls into two categories: those of the "Twentieth-Century Cycle," or cycle plays, and non-cycle plays. In order to create his theater of black experience, Bullins has striven to attain a recognizable thematic and character progression throughout these plays. In this way, the audience feels an even greater affinity and connection with Bullins's people.

The black experience in America is unique²it has no real parallel. And black Americans are unique. Paradoxically, blacks may well be at once the most estranged and the least foreign of all the citizens: most estranged because of their special history, which began in subjugation, continued in separation, and persists to this day under various forms of segregation; least foreign because, ironically, having been cut off from their native roots, they had few guides but those of the master and his agents. This is not to say no ³Africanisms´ survived. Of course they did. Still, most black Americans, for good or ill, were imbued with many of the same goals and aspirations of those of the dominant group. Many of their cultural traits were similar too.

Many critics saw his early works in a favorable light, but many thought they were too violent and depicted African-Americans in a negative way. One issue was whether or not black writers should challenge revolutionary activity without providing alternative directions and resolutions. Several black critics rallied to defend Bullins and attacked white critics for using µwhite¶ notions of good drama to evaluate black art.



Curt: 29 years old

Bass Player

Rich: 28 years old


Pandora: 22 years old. Curt¶s wife


Art: 23 years old


Mamma Too Tight: 20 years old


Shaky: 36 years old. Mamma Too Tight¶s man


Showgirl Piano Player Voice


Curt: The slick confidence man running a fresh new game there, but when it fails, or he gets caught ,again, will he put his wife on the street in six feet of snow

Pandora: A young and beautiful lady who is strong-willed and clever. She has been loved by men thoughout her life and she is aware of this. She knows that she can control men by her appereance, and she uses it.

Art: Curt¶s friend. They met in the jail, where Art saved Curt¶s life in a brawl, and earned instant trust. He knows much more about the world, he¶s knocked around.

Shaky: The heroin dealer. Shaky is also the µlover¶ and pimp of Mama Too Tight and is too thorough going a scoundrel to become fully rounded.

Mamma Too Tight: a white girl who has drug habit. She is young and most of the time childish; she wants someone to take care of her and to understand her; but as Shaky has his own problems he never cares her as much as she wants; so

Rich: He isn¶t going to no Buffalo and he has no dreams, either; just a determination to survive, unincarcerated. He is a realistic man and has the insight of what is going to happen.


One of the Black consciousness plays of Ed Bullins's Twentieth-Century Cycle, Goin¶a Buffalo first appeared as a staged reading at the American Place Theater in June of 1968.

The play features the tough, streetwise Curt and his nubile wife Pandora, who sells her body to bring Curt money; Curt's friend Rich; Mamma Too Tight, a young white woman who is wholly dependent upon her pimp, Shaky; and Art, a quiet, seemingly naive sort who, after having saved. Curt in a prison fight, is befriended by him. Though some of these decide to leave the hostility of Los Angeles, it is Curt who decides on Buffalo as an actual destination, hoping that he and Pandora can start a legitimate business there. As the play proceeds, however, this goal dissolves in a mixture of violence, manipulation, and deception.

Curt and Rich, two blacks in their twenties, are playing chess and being served beers by Curt's attractive, long-suffering wife Pandora, when they are visited by Art Garrison, a quiet thoughtful young black, who saved Curt's life in the county jail during a riot between

white and black prisoners. Curt is planning a job which will pay for them all to go to Buffalo and begin a new life, and Art is persuaded to join them. Pandora and her white friend Mamma Too Tight, who has to feed her drug habit, leave to go to work as hookers in a local club.

At the club, Art and Mamma get close, and Mamma's pimp Shaky comes and threatens her. Deeny, the club owner, then arrives from a meeting with the union and announces that he is closing the club. When he refuses to pay any wages, a fight breaks out, in which Curt is injured and Shaky knocked unconscious. Curt, Pandora, Mamma, and Art escape just as the police arrive. Three days later, Curt plans to raise bail for Shaky, who has been jailed for possession, by selling Shaky's heroin. Then they will all leave for Buffalo. Art, who has secretly fallen in love with Pandora, betrays Curt's heroin deal to the police, and then leaves town with Pandora ± to go to Buffalo

d. ACT I

In the first act, we are introduced with the setting and the importance of the usage of music thoughrought the play. We see Curt and Rich playing chess. The game of chess is a metaphor; it opens the play as Curt customarily beats Rich. Art, too, prevails at chess but also deftly manipulates the feelings, fears, and aspirations of these desperate characters, especially Mamma and Pandora.

Although the whole play gives us the impression of Pandora¶s strenght and power on others, we see Curt yelling at her and looking down on her all the time. He threats her as if she was his maid and Pandora is aware of this and she rejects the idea and talks back him most of the time.

Pandora: ³Just because you are pissed off at the world don¶t take it out on me! What¶ta hell ya thin ya got µround here, maid service?´ The usage of music has the utmost importance in the play, and we hear ³Delilah´ during the important scenes. Delilah, standard Hebrew meaning ³[One who] weakened or uprooted or impoverished´ from the root dal meaning µweak or poor¶ appears only in the Hebrew bible Book of Judges 16, where she is the µwoman in the valley of Sorek¶ whom Samson loved, and who was his downfall. Her figure, one of several dangerous temptresses in the Hebrew bible, has become emblematic: µSamson loved Delilah, she betrayed him, and, what is worse, she did it for money¶. Delilah had become the eponym of a ³Delilah´, a treacherous and cunning femme fatale. Hence, we have lots of references in books, poetry and music using this connatation. Moreover, in this play we repeatedly hear the song ³Delilah´ as a hint about what is about to happen next.

As Art arrives the tension between Rich and Art is felt at the beginning, and this will last until the end of the game. Curt talks about how he trusts Art, because he has saved him from being knocked in the jail during a riot between blacks and whites.

Curt: ³«how I appreciate what you did, man. It wasn¶t your fight man. You weren¶t taking sides. You were one of the quiet guys waiting for trial..´ (1912) Rich is a serious man and when he asks Art a question Art not giving a direct answer ditched his answer; yet Rich insists on the question as he is a direct man he wants direct answer.

Moreover in the first act we encounter Mamma Too Tight, a white girl of 20 who named herself like that after she experiences life. This young girl is addicted to heroine and she is a desperate girl though she seems not to be. While she is talking to Pandora about Shaky, her man/pimp, she seems really happy, in fact she is never happy the whole play.

Mamma Too Tight: ³Girl you should of seen Shaky.. ha ha haa«almost swept me off my feet, girl. Said he loved me and really missed me so much the last ninety days that he almost went out of his mind«.´ (1916) Though now we see her not taking her speech seriously, we can infer that she needs love and care, she just can¶t find it in Shaky no matter how much she wants. She is just out of prison with his help and she wants him to care about her not just for money.

Other than the themes of love and ordinary lives in the third scene the idea of ³American Dream´ is stated.

Curt: ³Yeah. We want to make some Money Art, so we can get out of this hole. We are making¶ it to Buffalo, man. You hip to Buffalo?´

Buffalo represents the unrealizable wide-open space of freedom. The American Dream as the phrase is usually tossed around, is about specific, subjective things unique to each person who

dreams it. In this play, American Dream is a tragifantasy the characters had just that in mind. The dreams to go away and have a prospect live but when reality struck the street people find out the existence of how black American and the brutal life it can unfold. American Dream is what you would consider a ³perfect life.´ It can be full of happiness, money, love, food, cars, whatever you desire; everybody has a different perception. Here setting for a new place and having some more money is their drive. Curt believes his success from The American Dream's stand point is characterized by his boastful attitude to the others.

And Pandora is really hopeful that they will be really happy in a new town: ³ It¶s supposed to be a good little town. A different scenery entirely. I¶m due for a good scene for a change.

Suddenly we see Curt hitting Pandora out of nearly no reason, and Art tries to step between them. Art: ³Don¶t hit her any more, Curt´ This move drives Curt crazy and he claims that she is his woman and he has every right to do what he wants. He heighlights that he is paying Pandora¶s bills while she rejects that. And the confession which will surprise the reader at the end of the play comes from Art:

³I¶m sorry for butting your business between you and yur ole lady but something just happens to me, man when I see a guy hit a girl. Lastly, towards the end of the play we are introduced to Pandora¶s Box. As a mythical fact we kow that in the box there are evil things. And as it is opened all of them will be freed except hope. So the playwright gives us the impression that, although some evil things may happen during the play there is stil hop efor the survivors. Moreover, here in the play the evil things are marijuana and the gun. After the evil things are placed in the box, we see them set off fort he Strip Club where Pandora Works.


The play moves through a long middle sequence in a neighborhood nightclub where Pandora sings; there, the Bullinsian element of violence controls every interaction between characters, the cast by now having been augmented by unpaid, disgruntled musicians who are both white and African American.

This sequence ends in a bloody brawl as Deeny, the club's disreputable manager, arrives to announce that the show is closing and that no one will be paid. Though the issue of racial tension is obvious in a play about African Americans at odds with poverty and with the criminal justice system, Bullins as playwright interestingly adds greater dramaturgical possibilities by writing stage directions that allow Deeny, the Bouncer, and a customer to be cast as whites ² possibilities through which, Bullins writes, ³there might be added tensions.´

While they are at the club, Art and Pandora talk about Mamma. And Art makes Pandora angry by his words and she answers back:

Pandora: ³She is not asking for your pity. She is a real woman in some ways and she won¶t let you take it away from her by your pity. She¶d spit on your pity.´ Art: ³And you?´ Pandora: ³ I ain¶t no whore. I¶m just making money so Curt and me can get on our feet. One day we gonna own property and maybe some businesses when we get straight.´ Here Pandora indicates the idea of American Dream again, she heighlights that she has hopes and she reckons them.

In this act, Art¶s admiration for Pandora is also implied in many ways. For example while he and Curt are speaking, he suddenly says:

³Pandora is a beautiful girl, Curt. You¶re lucky, man, to have her. I envy you´

Even after that, Curt has no doubts about his behaviours and when there is a possibility of them being caught by the police, Curt and Pandora has this dialog:

Curt: ³If anything happens baby, let Art take care of things..´ Pandora: ³Art?´ C: ³Yeah.´ P: ³But I¶m your woman, remember?´ C: ³He is like a brother to me. I¶ve spoken him about it«´ P: ³You think that much of him, Curt?´ C: ³I told you, he¶ like my brother, baby«.´ There starts a fight at the club and then Shaky was injured and the police caughts him since the other has left him there. Shaky¶s imprisonment will be the climax of the play; because to release him Curt has a plan and he won¶t succeed in this. The next scene of the act we see Curt and Rich playing chess again. While they are playing they start talking about Art and Pandora; and Rich implies something and Curt gets this by examining his tone. C: ³Yeah, But tell me. What do you have tyo say, good buddy.´ R: ³It¶s about this guy Art and Pandora, man.´ C: ³What do you mean, man?´ R: ³Man, I don¶mean there is anything going on yet« but each afternoon he¶s taken Pandora ou for the past three days they been gettin¶ back later« and..´ C: ³And what Rich? R: ³And the way she looks at him, Curt´ C: ³You are accusinf my wife of jivin¶ around on me. You know that Pan is the straightest broad you¶ll ever find.that¶s why I married her.´

Curt¶s problem is too much trust on people, he also relies Pandora a lot, but things are not as he believes. When Art and Pandora arrive from the club, they seem to be departed from each other, and try to seem angry at one another. Yet, when they find the oppurtunity to get closer they start kissingg each other immediately.

Lastly in ACT II we see Curt, Rich and Pandora leaving to get Shaky released. And Art stays at home with Mamma. As they leave Art shouts behind them: ³See you later Pan, good-bye Curt, good bye Rich´ and he starts lauhghing when he tries to wake up sleeping Mamma. Here we have an idea of the next scene, maybe just Pandora will come back, and the others will not be able to turn back.


In the third scene which is a very short scene, we see Pandora crying and facing Art. We understand that Curt and Rich are arrested and we infer from Pandora¶s speech that Art has planned the arresting and he informed the police about the heroine.

Pandora: ³The cops were waiting fort hem. They busted them with all those narcotics..we¶ll never see them again.´ Art: ³We are hot, Pandora. We got to get out of the town.´ Pandora: ³They got them, don¶t ya hear me, Art. What can we do? Art: ³Nothin¶« we got to make it before Curt and Rich break«´ Pandora continues crying and can¶t understand what Art is trying to convey. And suddenly we happen to see Art slapping her. Although he said that he couldn¶t stand a man hitting a girl, now he does it.

Mamma is also going with them to much of Pandora¶s surprise. Here the thing that Art tells about himself is totally different from what we are shown from the beginning.

Lastly Art wants Pandora to take her box as well. Here, eventually, reliable Art is also an evil not to mention. And in Buffalo things are going to be same for Pandora and Mamma, no matter how hard they try to keep away from the reality.


³Ed Bullins&.#8221;.Black Theatre. 3 Apr. 2001. 14 Nov. 2005. <http://www.bridgesweb.com/blacktheatre/bullins.html>.

Ed Bullins: Now. 2005. 9 Nov. 2005. <http://www.edbullins.com/>

Leslie Sanders, York University, Atkinson College. "Ed Bullins. "Dictionary of Literary Biography. Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers (Volume 38), 198

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