In The Beginning
“The past is nothing but prologue…” Jean-Baptiste Delacroix is a character in Geraldine Inoas’ play SCRAPS, who opens the play with these words, punctuated with a pause, and then N****r. Then again, and while we wonder why we are watching a young African American man repeat this line over and over, he relates a story about another young black man, Forrest Winthrop, who was shot and killed by a white policeman near the spot where Jean-Baptiste is seated.
The set is the exterior of a building in Brooklyn, once probably a lovely home, now converted to apartments. As Jean-Baptiste lays out the rest of the prologue, the other people that live in the building show up. In quick succession, we learn of the characters, their goals and relationships. These scenes are the foundation of the story, and to reveal details would do injustice to the clear vision that Ms. Inoa has for a story she must tell.
Every person is a real fully-conceived character, people that represent this particular community. All weave together into the fabric of their own lives, and life and death of Forrest Winthrop.
This play is a study into what happens when living without privilege. When the dream of a better life, the American Dream is only possible through exceptionalism. Hard work, labor, daily living will not acquire comfort, grace. Only in being better than anyone, can one hope to be as good as the other.
In the first half of this play a world is revealed. Each character is a model of problems and solutions. What is the problem? Life. What are the solutions? Each has their own vision, education, stardom, athletics, but each solution has obstacles. Whether we or the characters believe there are road blocks or not, the unvarnished truth is that no matter who we are, we can accept life, fight for or against it, or, we can give up. But which is the goal, the big prize, the brass ring, the house on the hill, or is it to overcome the hurdle in front of us only to find another in the way. At what point do we lose site of the prize. And while many offer advice to clear the paths, it is the decisions we make that alter our own outcomes. Or is it?
Are we so weighted by our mere luck of circumstance, history, color, sex… that there are some obstacles so daunting that we forget the end goal, and overcoming the challenge is the raison d’étre? Does life by chance put you 25 yards behind the starting block in a 100-yard dash? Is that 25 yards a penalty? Or do we even know that we have that 25 yards to overcome before we get to even? Can we ever start even?
Even pondering the question is an advantage of a privilege. Those that are brought into a world without privilege aren’t given an instruction manual that says you have to run 26% faster to win. They have to learn by experience that there is a problem. Once discovered how do we solve the problem?
These are not the questions that are posed by SCRAPS, it is the story of a circumstance of life where the only possible goal is to win, win it all, because if you don’t, you get nothing. Those are the lives we see. The direction that’s sought is out because here is nothing but the past.
The second half of the play is something entirely different. It’s no longer the philosophical challenge of overcoming circumstance, it is the very existential crisis that develops in the man-boy Sebastian Winthrop, the child of the Forrest Winthrop. Sebastian is only a topic of conversation in the first half otherwise unseen. In a surreal landscape only suggested by the presence of the ghosts of the past, we journey with Sebastian in pursuit of a prize. What is the uber want of this fatherless child? Which tools will provide him with a means to achieve? What satisfaction, adulthood, success? What can possibly be his prizes in this quest?
SCRAPS is not an easy play to watch. It is stark, it is violent, it rubs our faces into a world that we’d rather not see, and in most cases are only peripherally aware exists. This is a Geraldine Inoas’ first play. She is a writer for the show, The Walking Dead. I suspect we will be seeing much more from this authentic voice. Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, whose background and commitment to social change contributes a clarity to SCRAPS that is absolutely vital.
SCRAPS playing at the Matrix Theatre, Through Mid September.