By Ernie McCray
I saw “Blueprints to Freedom: an Ode to Bayard Rustin,” at the La Jolla Playhouse a week ago.
I was never so ready for a play to begin as I was that night because Bayard is a huge hero of mine, someone, whose memory, I’ve cherished for a long time.
To me, he was about as outstanding a human being as anyone could be. Ghandi, personified. So tirelessly alive and brilliant and loving and wise, a master as to how to organize, able to gather what he called “angelic troublemakers” together against all kinds of odds, in all kinds of weather. He brought us the moment when Martin envisioned a world, aloud, where “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Not too many people can piece together a moment in time like that. To put his talents in the vernacular “The dude was bad, Jack!” Not to mention that on top of that he was a creative and artistic natural born Renaissance Man who could sing and act, one who lived to make the world a place where black lives mattered which, in turn, would make “all lives matter” a concept that rings true and sincere.
This drama the other night got him, the essence of him, the agony that must have weighed on him when his nation and his friends turned their backs on him – because he was proud and dared to stand openly as a gay man. As himself.
Seeing him portrayed, moving about the stage, letting wisdom flow with practically every word he said and every gesture he made, I was reminded of how frightened we are, as a nation, of racial and sexual “differences”; how we relate to our dissimilarities as though they are the carriers of deadly diseases; how we can, in our hysteria, snatch a loving and caring man like Bayard off the street and silence him and threaten him and arrest him and beat him and imprison him as though we’re a society bent on suicide – considering how we ostracize and imperil the lives of those who simply want us to love each other and venture to show us how.
I watched the drama from perspectives that began forming within me as I played with my toys in the 40’s and as I, during the 50’s and 60’s, morphed from a Colored/Negro teenager with a hell of a jump shot, into a man, standing tall and unbowed, singing “Say it loud. I’m Black and I’m proud!”
The play took me back to those days, in my mind, as I deeply absorbed the emotions that spilled from the actors around the questions of sex and race.
Bayard was given his say, giving me a clearer sense of how he got past the attacks on his sexuality and trucked on, unapologetically, for all the world to see.
The conversations on stage validated my imaginings of what it must have been like, under the circumstances, when Bayard sat in a room with the likes of A. Philip Randolph and Martin to work out their differences and let bygones be bygones and move on to stitching together an iconic moment in American History, in August of ’63: a March on Washington wherein we were gifted with a beautiful Dream of equality and dignity for all; a Dream of brotherhood and sisterhood; a Dream of people getting along reasonably.
And the struggle continues as we’re still a nation torn by racial hatred and violence, by bigotry against the LGBTQ community, and by the tremendous divides between the rich and poor.
But the Blueprint to Freedom gives us a peek at how, when love for one’s fellow human beings is at the core of a mission, both greatness and human frailty can intersect and co-exist and lead to wonderful things getting done as it’s only through love that these social maladies can be turned around.
On a brilliant set on the La Jolla Playhouse stage, Bayard’s spirit was so alive. At curtain call he was so ensconced in my heart and soul, I couldn’t even imagine taking my eyes off the prize.
This play will be showing through October 4, 2015. Go see it. Ticket info.
Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/
bob dorn says
Beautiful piece of work, again, Ernie. Lately, black history has made yet another comeback, for obvious reasons. There is nothing new about the American story; it’s been a constant struggle to establish and maintain the dignity of man and woman, of all individuals and to cherish life, and that history is written in black and white.
Stephen Nagler says
Wonderful review but how could you not acknowledge the writer, Michael Washington, who also played Rustin?
Ernie McCray says
Thought about it but couldn’t think of a way to do it with the approach I had taken to writing my thoughts.
Mandy Barre says
Beautiful piece. Beautiful play. For more info: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/100-amazing-facts/who-designed-the-march-on-washington/
It is by far the best play I have seen this year at the La Jolla Playhouse. The writing was so good. To hear what might have gone on between MLK jr. and Rustin was enlightening.
Rustin was a great role model. This year, I have seen some good plays at LJ Playhouse from the Darell Hammond Project, How to be a Rock Critic and the Astronaut Farm-worker, From Far Away and Up Here.
But, Blueprints…brought tears to my eyes…emotional, to say the least.
i saw the play too and it moved me to tears. i too grew up in Seattle as colored, Negro and became a proud Black Man in the sixties. check out my memoir LONG JOURNEY HOME on Amazon/Kindle