Flowers for the Trashman is Marvin X’s first produced (Drama Department, San Francisco State University, 1965) play. Included in the Black Fire anthology in 1968, it’s an example of Black Arts Movement, (BAM), work that seeks to render issues of immediate importance to the Black Community. It is a performative work that has a sharp relevance to the relationships that shape and plague manhood in North American African communities today. As in all good art, the theme while applied specifically, has universal implications that manage to break even the imposed strictures of gender within the piece to speak elegantly about separation within intimate spaces.
Marvin X wrote Flower’s for the Trashman in the turbulent 1960’s. When I asked permission to stage the piece he asked, “Why?” Why is a piece of work over 40 years old at the time of my request relevant at this time?
My answer lies in part in the enigmatic timelessness of the piece. Something becomes a classic because of its ability to translate itself across time. This is a trait inherent in fine art. It is so because the best art seats itself in the basic foundation of the human story. Significant art seeks to know something essential to human nature, it worries itself, and us, with the making of the human condition. This art can be cathartic, it can disturb, remind or simply call into view from the shadows of unconsciousness, the elephants sitting boldly on universal tables.
Created in the historical context of BAM, Flowers for the Trashman, is an example of work consciously intended to be performative, created for and about subjects and issues paramount to the formation and sustaining of independent black communities, concerned with self-articulation. It is performative because the reflection offered invites and intends to provoke action. I submit Marvin X’s work also passes the litmus test for fine art. In its reflection of intimate estrangement it probes familial relations on the very personal and on the universal archetypal level. The work is aligned with an issue of humanness that will be dated only by a shift in the human condition itself. Thus the work satisfies the specific requirements of its lens: black male relationships, while working beyond the specificity of this boundary as well.
The reflection of North American Africans in America mirrors the societal dilemmas of American society writ large. While essentially an introspection of father/son communication, Flowers for the Trashman is also a vehicle to examine intimacy, and isolation in company, and personally constructed boundaries on a much larger level. The very specific gendered focus of the piece is also fluid; it is the situation itself that is compelling and larger than the beautifully simple text.
The main character asks, “How can we be so far apart…? So far apart, yet so close—so close together?” This is the interrogation the work attempts. It is voiced in the final quarter of the piece and sums its query emphatically. This question should be of interest to us as a nation as we cry for change. If we knew the answer perhaps the illusive unity we seek could be manifest. If we asked this in our houses, our churches, our academic spaces, halls of government, in our communities, out on the turfs of the world where we all breathe the same air—what could we learn about appreciation of difference, each other and the path to unity?
We are in the information age. We hyper communicate in multi modes, yet in the midst of this explosion of ways in which to communicate, the art of intimate human exchange goes unattended. We get our news from the corporate media and other secondary sources. We miss the primacy of getting our news from each other. We travel together though the event of our lives with earphones, cell phones, and laptops. We socially network with people we will never meet and who may not be the people they claim to be. Yet our co-workers, neighbors, partners, children, parents go unknown in large and significant ways. The way we are is easy to see, the how we got there, often dies with us.
The average child can tell you more about his favorite artist than he can his own family. The everyday adult knows how to talk at children but spends little time talking to them as equal humans with viable information about themselves and their environment to offer. We are alone, traveling together on a blue ball spinning in space, more connected than ever before, and yet we are alone, isolated in our individual stories of self, without an appreciation of how the individual stories inform each other we suffer in isolation.
There is space in Marvin’s transparent working of the very personal for us to consciously consider the lack of intimate communication on a variety of levels. All these levels serve the function in BAM directives and serve as a space for introspection on unity and its possibility from the personal to the universal.
I choose to add the piece to The Lower Bottom Playaz’s repertory because of my own passion for communication, my appreciation for the artistry of my mentor and my appreciation of the classics. An active love of the classic demands the work be kept alive and allowed to do its work. By mounting classic art we enable its longevity by gifting it to new generations.
“If I don’t know the folks on the page; I won’t direct the work.”
Ayodele Nzinga, MFA, PhD