Theater: Of Hurt & Hate

Blues for Mr. Charlie, by James Baldwin, sabotages most of its own good purposes. It means to be an eloquent cry from the heart of the Negro's hurt but spends itself showering rhetorical spleen on the white man. It aims to seize the conscience but grabs the playgoer's lapel instead, like a standing grievance committee. It strives to be fresh, but its story of Southern shotgun justice is overly familiar, and what powers Mr. Charlie is not its topical subject but a contemporary mood, the taut-nerved spirit of violence that seethes through the play's language and characters. When Baldwin finally relates...

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