Coffee Ground Among The Tea Leaves, A


Features "four actors, called Obbligato, Pristine, Cinnamon, and Ambrose, and their four alter-egos, Baritone, Soprano, Contralto and Tenor.  The four or eight of them are putting on some kind of performance, but it's got out of hand.  Pristine, the usual leading lady, has been supplanted by Cinnamon, who is armed with three 'whims' and has dictatorial (but not uncontested) control until she expends them.  Cinnamon and Contralto are Negro, and the situation has something to do with a black-white power struggle.  Cinnamon also has possession of a 'note', cryptic 'instructions' in the form of a dollar bill, which dictates the action: she successively plays Medea, the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra, and the Empress Josephine, and narrowly avoids playing Mammy. But she is continually interrupted.  The off-stage life of the actors intrudes onto the stage, the other characters interfere with her and contend with each other, and the play is forever in a tangle.  It's by no means established just when the actual action begins or whether, in fact, it ever does, but the 'play' rattles along heedless of its own possible nonexistence in a flurry of effects, one after the other and at the same time--contentions, song and dance, racial put-downs, movie mockery, historical caricature, political satire, asides, offstage comments, sound effects, you name it.  Around the middle the power struggle changes its polarization as Soprano and a reluctant Contralto team up in an obscure plot to wrest leadership from Cinnamon and Pristine.  The climax comes when Pristine, the whitest of the white, denounces everybody for upsetting the apple cart."

--Review of "A Coffee Ground Among the Tea Leaves" (1967) [OBJ.1967.0192]