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The IUP Journal of English Studies :
Stripping Illusions and Mirroring Realities: Ed Bullins, the Absurdist
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The African American theatre of the 1960s abounds with many revolutionary playwrights. While African American dramatists like Amiri Baraka wrote revolutionary plays in the literal sense, for Ed Bullins, his contemporary, revolution was not in style and technique but in theme and character. While most of his contemporaries still had the Euro-American audience in mind, Bullins was the first to exclude them from his theatre. His plays were written for and about African Americans. Most of his plays portray men and women caught up in a world where nothing changes. The illusions of hope, which make them sustain in their barren and sterile world, prove in the end to be no less than dreams that are unattainable. None of them are able to reconcile to reality and are forced to retain the illusion, which is their only sustenance to continue their lives. This circular plot, which is one of the main elements of the Theatre of the Absurd, is found in most of Bullins’s plays. This paper discusses the theme of absurdity in Bullins’s Clara’s Ole Man and Goin’ a Buffalo.

 
 
 

Though the African American1 theatre has been a reality in America for one hundred fifty years, it attained its special identity in the 1960s when Amiri Baraka(formerly Le Roi Jones)2 demanded a Theatre “about” African Americans, “with” African Americans, “for” African Americans, and “only” African Americans. African American theatre received its major impulses from the African American Cultural Revolution and its contemporary politics. As an ally of African American political movement, the major theme of African American drama in the 1960s was identity crisis. Protest is what characterized the majority of African American literature and drama of the 1960s: “The Revolutionary Theatre should force change, it should be change” (Baraka 1965, 4). Baraka’s dictum crystallizes both the fundamental aim and the underlying strategy of the African American revolutionary theatre. The dramatists of this period sought to precipitate a new order of existence, a social change partly reflected by their radically different dramatic idiom. The rhetoric of this theatre was consciously intended to enable the audience to act decisively and to transform their lives and the society that oppresses them.

While most of the playwrights of the period, including Baraka, were still striving to establish themselves for Euro-Americans, Ed Bullins was one of the first innovative playwrights of the period to exclude them from his theatre completely. In an interview, Bullins (1969b, 14) insists that the African Americans “don’t want to have a higher form of white art in black face.” Bullins was concerned with bringing the experience of African Americans live on stage in a manner which forces the audience to confront its metaphorically ambiguous but politically explosive implications. Bullins began writing plays in 1965 during a volatile time when African American culture was exploding into an awareness of its artistic and political potentials. Born in Philadelphia in 1935, Bullins was one of the pioneers of the Black Theatre Movement3 in San Francisco. Later he settled down as a playwright-in-residence at the New Lafayette Theatre,4 founded in the year 1967 in Harlem.

 
 

Journal of English Studies ,Stripping Illusions ,Mirroring Realities, Ed Bullins, the Absurdist.