Human Rights: Why Bother?* or, Hwa, Hwa, Hwa, Hwa, Hwa

I’m watching Latanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose, and Denzel Washington–the cast of Lorraine Hansberry‘s A Raisin in the Sun, now playing on Broadway–on the Charlie Rose show on PBS.

The first time I saw Raisin, I was a high school junior. It was on television, probably Saturday Night at the Movies. The most recent was last week, when it ran on a network that shows old movies 24/7. I’ve never seen it on stage, but if the opportunity arose, I would grab it.

Some stage presentations I see every time I have the chance. I saw Victor Borge three times over the years, the last time only a few weeks before he died. I’ve seen Hal Holbrook‘s Mark Twain Tonight three or four times–I’ve lost count–beginning in the early ’80s. The latest was in San Antonio in 2012, when Holbrook was eighty-seven.

In each performance, Holbrook uses different material, and thanks to Twain, it’s always timely. Two years ago, after reading from Huckleberry Finn and telling The Story of the Old Ram and other humorous pieces, his Twain ended by inveighing against corporations, banks, and corrupt financiers. He also recited The War Prayer. Ugly and true. Nothing funny there.

Two other stage productions I keep going back to originated here in Austin and turn up every fall, if we’re lucky: Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas. I wrote about them in a post titled Day 24: Mulomedic (the original topic focused on my adoption of an underused word, but before I could finish, it strayed).

It’s impossible to explain the Tunas to folks who’ve not seen them in person or lived among the characters.  Suffice it to say, actors Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (also writers) wear multiple costumes and play multiple roles and make fun of the people sitting in the audience laughing at them. A video is worth a thousand words, so for further edification, check online. They’re there.

 

English: I took this photo of Jaston Williams,...
English: I took this photo of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears while they were costumed as Vera Carp & Pearl Burras. They were appearing in San Diego in the Play “Tuna Does Vegas.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) By Philkon Phil Konstantin [Public domain]
Greater Tuna and A Raisin in the Sun intersected in the mid-1990s, when I took my friend Vivian to see one of the Tunas.

I’d first met Vivian when she came to be my mother’s daytime companion, after Mother’s health made it necessary for her to have someone else in the house while I was at work. A nineteen-year-old African-American, Vivian came highly recommended by one of her former high school teachers, who said she was bright, wrote beautifully, and ought to be in college, but was very shy. She was also quiet and spoke only when she had something important to say.

I thought Vivian would enjoy Tuna but wasn’t sure how I would know. True to form, she sat still and silent for the first several minutes.

Then came the scene at Radio Station OKKK, serving the Greater Tuna area, when Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis report on the latest production by Little Theater Director Joe Bob Lipsey. Among Joe Bob’s credits, they report, is his all white production of A Raisin in the Sun.

From the seat to my right came a loud Hwa, hwa, hwa, hwa, hwa.

That was Vivian, enjoying the show.

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*To fully understand this reference, you must watch the first Greater Tuna clip–The Beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 24: Mulomedic

Today’s word is mulomedic.

It’s one of four endangered words I adopted today from the Oxford English Dictionary’s Save the Words.

An adjective, it means relating to the medical care of mules.

Example: Mary wants to be a mulomedic veterinarian, but her mother says Basset hounds are where the money is.

When I adopted my words, I promised to use them “in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the very best of my ability.”

Goodness knows how I’ll work mulomedic into the conversation. William and Ernest are going to the vet’s for their vaccinations next week; perhaps I can use it there.

“Dr. Smith, are you a mulomedic veterinarian, or do  you limit your practice to cats?”

But I didn’t choose the word to make life easy. I chose it because I like mules. They’re good folks.

The guides at the Grand Canyon lavish praise on the mules that carry tourists on the mile-long ride almost straight down to the canyon floor. No rider has ever toppled into the canyon, they say, because the riders practically glue themselves to the mules, and the mules don’t fall.

A white mule played a pivotal role in my life. Telling the story requires a detour to Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, located somewhere “between San Angelo and Hell, ” “where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.”

In a scene from A Tuna Christmas, Stanley Bumiller and his mother’s aunt, Pearl Burrus, are on stage together. Stanley’s community service at the Tuna Little Theater has been threatened by city secretary Dixie Deberry, who has threatened to turn off the electricity because the theater hasn’t paid its bill. Pearl is concerned about Stanley’s possible return to incarceration as well as about the Christmas Phantom who’s sabotaging the yard decoration contest. In the middle of their talk, Pearl grows solemn. The next lines go something like this:

Pearl:         Stanley, I’m worried. I had a dream the other night. Dreamed about a white mule.

Stanley:    Hell, Pearl, a white mule’s death, ain’t it?

Pearl:         No. A white horse is death. A white mule’s generally nothing worse than car trouble.

Now back to me.

About fifteen years ago, I was at a low point. I’d been there for a number of years.  Although things looked as if they would smooth out, I was still living under a cloud.

One morning, driving up Texas Highway 80 toward San Marcos, I saw a large animal loping toward me in the borrow ditch on the opposite side of the road. Afraid it would stray into my path, I stepped on the brake and turned on my hazard lights as a warning to other vehicles.

I had assumed the animal was a horse, but as we neared each other, I saw it was a white mule.

And the moment I recognized him, I said to myself, “Hallelujah, it’s nothing worse than car trouble.”

Then I laughed all the way to San Marcos.

That is a true story, and another instance of how great literature affords solace in times of distress.

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My other adopted words are gnathonize, aquabib, and leeftail. For definitions, click on the link to Endangered and Underused Words, on the left sidebar.

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Those not already initiated into the joys of the Tuna trilogy–Greater Tuna; A Tuna Christmas; and Red, White and Tuna–are encouraged to find more information at http://greatertuna.com/index.cfm. The row of icons across the bottom of that page is key to getting around the site.

A friend says the audiences at these shows are sitting there laughing at people on stage who are laughing at them. That, too, is true.

A Tuna Christmas is playing at the Paramount in Austin through this Sunday. I wanted to go, but I’ve seen it five or six or eight times, and I’ve memorized most of the dialogue, so I didn’t think I could justify another trip. Next year, however…

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