By Emma C.
Sleep Deprivation Chamber is a play written by Adrienne Kennedy and her son Adam Kennedy. The play, based on Adam Kennedy and Adrienne Kennedy's true-life experience, explores the aftermath of Adam's brutal encounter with a Virginia policeman who pulled him over and beat him, and then later arrested him for assaulting a police officer. Throughout the thoroughly post-modern narrative, Adam Kennedy's beating as well as the courtroom story is told alongside his mother's story, which involves her experience writing letters to political officials to draw attention to the incident. At the same time, the play's narrative transcends time by using dream sequences, and play-within-a-play scenes to shed light on the tough topic of police brutality, Kennedy's approach is a creative one that attempts to reconceptualize the truth by blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
Adrienne Kennedy is a famous African-American playwright best known for her play Funnyhouse of a Negro. Most of her work centers around the black experience and African culture in connection to current events and past ones. In "Sleep" she submerges herself into a metaphorical "Sleep Deprivation Chamber," renaming herself an alter-ego-- "Suzanne Alexander". Suzanne is the narrator of dream sequences throughout the play and readers can follow her side of the story through the letters she writes. Suzanne is the only character who seems to be out of the loop with the incident that occurred between her son (Adam is renamed "Teddy" in the play) and Policeman Holzer. Her breaks from reality are made apparent in her desperate attempts to get attention from Governor Wilder through her letters. The letters reveal how Suzanne feels powerless, not only as a mother, but as a famous playwright and also as an African American. The content of her letters relay her cries for justice, but they also recount actions of her daily life, which adds a human touch to the play. In one of Suzanne’s letters she writes, “Dear Governor Wilder: I’ve received replies from the police chief, senators and county manager. I have a new list. But why should we have to defend ourselves with letters of character when we are innocent?...”
In addition to the letters and the act of writing being a critical point for power and powerlessness in the play, Kennedy also mentions several crucial people, places, and events in American history in order to emphasis that this type of discrimination has not changed throughout time. For instance, at one point she recalls Emmett Till, a 14 year old teen who was lynched and mutilated for flirting with white woman Carolyn Bryant in the 1950s. Stating, “...We are now a grieved family. Our son is being prosecuted by the Arlington Police Department just as surely as happened in the Deep South in the 1930s 0r during Emmett Till’s time.” In relation to her situation involving Teddy being beaten by a white officer, she is commenting on white privilege. Another incident she mentions is the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that collapsed a double-Decker freeway structure in Oakland California. Her use of historical figures and events adds to the play's topic of the black experience, because it is a reminder of how blacks in the U.S. are portrayed and treated. Although written in the 1990s, we can see a pattern of such events still occurring today, maybe not entirely alike but very similar. Currently this could be a story in connection to the Black Lives Matter movement, challenging historical issues of racism in the U.S.
Teddy, the secondary character in this play, is the alter-ego for her son. He is the most relatable character of the play. A victim of police brutality and racial discrimination, Teddy represents the many faces of young African-American men who suffer at the hands of a faulty justice system. Time after time Teddy is questioned about the specifics of the night he encountered officer Holzer, “The officer was pushing me on top of the car and because I had been kicked in the chest I had a very difficult time breathing and I asked the officer very politely-I said, “Sir, I can’t breathe,” I said, “I’m an American citizen, could you please let me up and breathe?”. This bit of information that Teddy provides is the starting to point to his whole situation. At some point he is even told by an African- American female lawyer, “It’s all right, you can tell me, even though your father’s here, you can tell me if you have been arrested before. Come on!” which leaves him in a state of shock. The importance of this one scene is how even amongst your so-called “brothers & sisters” there is a pre-deviant stereotype of what African-Americans are depicted as.
Kennedy's presentation of civil rights ideas and persons and the retelling of Adam's (Teddy's) story contribute to a larger conversation about Black identity while capturing the turbulent 1990s of America -- a time when Cold War ends, a truck bomb explodes under the world trade center, President Clinton signs the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Oklahoma City bombings, O.J trails, and the Columbine High School murders. The Kennedy’s perhaps composed this play not only to develop an argument about the racist societal systems America has in place that contribute to the powerlessness many blacks today feel. Everything in this play from the encounter with the police, the interrogations, the letters, and dreams, all of it screams about the black experience in a racist, white America.
Sleep Deprivation Chamber is a play still so important today because it reflects much of the attitudes and experiences of Black lives. A short read that will stay with you for a long time.
By guest blogger: M.X. Perea
Would it surprise you to learn that I am a goat? That I am tied to a tree beside a garage? That the sun is shivering in the sky like a frail old man on an early autumn morning?
I am a goat, but that is my problem, not yours. And mine is a peach tree. It bears only small hard peaches, nearly all stone, though their surface is softish like the velveteen skin that covers vinyl dollar-store rabbits. I eat the peaches anyway.
It will die soon, the tree. I have seen this in my dreams. It will lean, split at its base, and half of it will fall away. Then the fruit rat that lives in its trunk will have to find a new cave. This destruction will take from five to fifteen years. What remains will be one old withered arm, blistered with a few yellow leaves and one or two sweet hard buds, like boils. I will eat these too when their time comes, and then I too will walk away.
Till then, the tree is my base. I have named it Home. My rope is tied loosely around it, so loose that were I to charge off toward the far sagging fence, the knot would surely unclasp, and I would be free. This is how you might choose to see it, but the truth is that the rope, sagging as it is, is longer than the distance from here to the fence. To charge toward the fence would leave me tangled in chain-link while still attached to Home. So why charge then?
Yes, why charge then? you might ask. Why not walk, as peacefully as a goat might walk, to the fence and jump, as gracefully as a goat might jump, up on the fence. From there a goat might stand tall and proud, soak in the sun, revel in its goatish odor. It is a sweet dream, sure. But what then?
If I were to leap into the adjoining yard, I might not hit earth before the rope were yanked tight, pulled to its limit. Then I’d be nothing more than a dangling goat, bucking and whining, until the life were choked from me, poor squealing thing. As far as I can tell, I’d never be discovered. For no one ever comes near--not ever. Even the moon would turn its ghost eye from me, down upon something that might cast a more resilient shadow.
So I stand, close to Home, waiting for the next peach to fall. And yet I get the sense that I should be doing something else. But what?
Don’t think that I haven’t tried conversing with the fruit rat. I have even tried to guess its name. In recent years, when it has poked its head from the crotch of Home, I have called it by those names. Dickle, I said, and days passed. Sinnerly, I said, and weeks passed. Remarkilization, I said, and months passed. It simply stared back at me, its yellow eyes seeming to say that a rat may not have a name, may even be undeserving of one. Undeserving I understood, for undeserving I stood. That was my little joke though I didn’t create it; it simply formed on my firm pointed tongue. I didn’t share the expression’s beauty with the small dark twitching thing before me.
The truth is, I have always been repulsed by rats. They make my skin crawl. And if something can make a goat’s skin crawl, you know it is a powerful thing.
I watched once--oh, this was years ago--when the rat (I have secretly named it Deliverant) emerged from Home and happened to turn toward the house. Yes, there’s a house. It turned toward the house--as I did in reveling in its freedom to move--and saw that the back door was open. It was cold then. I had spent the previous few evenings knitting myself a coat in the magic world of my head where anything I could imagine could actually exist if my eyes were kept closed for long enough. It was cold and Deliverant emerged shivering, even the crotch of Home failing to warm it. It spied the open door then turned to look at me. I wasn’t wholly innocent. I winked. I believe I saw Deliverant nod; then, it quickly bolted--as only a rat can do--toward the house. Can I describe the joy I felt when it scurried over the threshold? I don’t think so. Your loss.
There’s no telling how long Deliverant was in the house before it was discovered. I remember coming to, which must have meant that I had nodded off, and noticing that the door that had once been open--no other door but that--was now closed. Was it in? I believed so.
I dozed again, for you see, even the most exciting circumstances often fail to keep a goat awake. I opened my eyes again to screaming. To banging. To cursing. To the door of the house being flung open and Deliverant--that lucky bastard--flying from the open door and leaping from the stoop. A full broom--handle to hay--flew after it. In a blink of my lazy eyes, Deliverant had found its way home.
I expected it to be chased. Instead the door was banged shut.
I swept my head from side to side for that is the only way I know to sweep my gaze from side to side, and that was my intention. I believe I wanted evidence--of what I know not. Of what I had witnessed, perhaps. But there was none. Instead, the air was still, the world was quiet. No testimonial emerged to find its way to my ears, my eyes, my etc.
Nor did Deliverant appear though I had so many questions, not for months. I focused my attention on the crotch, the dark hole from which it was wont to emerge. I neighed, and my neigh seemed to echo, to bounce off the bleaching wall of the garage, to rise above me and shake the power lines strung loose and lazily in the air above me. I heard the power lines buzz. I didn’t know what to make of it.
A bit about Perea: Professor of English at Pasadena City College
By Kevin Salvador
I found myself waiting for the train, like I've always done; but this time I was a bit irritated because I've quit smoking cigarettes and I had a nicotine itch. The night sky had arrived. It had been raining that afternoon so everything glistened with water droplets and the air was chilly. As soon as I got on the train I regretted it. The heater was cranked to a hot 86 degrees.
I tried to remind myself that it was not so cold outside and so hot on that train -- that maybe I was just overreacting. I'm sure people in Alaska have it worse than this -- but why did it have to be so hot on the train? There's a homeless lady huddled up in the corner wrapped in a worn out Nike jacket. I forget about how hot it is. I found a seat near the back, where I was able to stretch out and gain some much-needed solitude,
As I sat there watching the various passengers loading and unloading themselves from the train, I couldn't help but think about that Alaskan tundra; about all them animals that survive up there in the frozen, barren cold. Sturdy creatures, living in a white abyss. Foxes; wolves wolverines and… polar bears?
Do they have polar bears up there?
Off the train now, I walk through Union Station to get to Patsaouras plaza where the LA chill welcomes me again. I've got it good.
A group of pigeons huddle together while I waited for the 733 to Santa Monica. Do pigeons migrate south when they get cold? If it really got cold, would they just take off? Would I?
Off the bus now, I'm dreading my apartment -- a small place filled with too many people, but at least it will be warm.
By Jeff Aguilar
Just in time for Halloween celebrations, LA’s The Last Bookstore with Horror Screenwriters." They invited three professional horror screenwriters: Jeffrey Reddick, screenwriter known for his work on “Final Destination”, Stephen Susco, known for his work for “The Grudge” and Brad Keene, for his work on “From Within." These three writers were asked to talk about their writing techniques and their experiences with learning and loving the field of horror writing. Hosted by one of the store’s patrons, Peter Katz, the event turned out to be a wonderful success with many laughs, intriguing subjects of discussion, and even stories about working with colleagues on movies like “The Grudge” and “Final Destination”.
Together they all spoke highly of each other’s works and much more of the works that inspired them, from M. Night Shyamalan’s early works, to Stephen King's stories and mythologies. After delving into the processes and techniques they often employ, the screenwriters opened up about what had them go into the horror genre, and when they were first exposed to horror films. Reddick spoke of his parents allowing him to read all of Stephen King’s works, except “The Shining”. Susco talked about haunted places he worked at, while Keene talked about not being able to finish watching "The Thing" (1982) because it was too scary!
All in all it was a great night for those interested in writing and in the horror film genre!
The Voice of Juniper Song
By Jodie Shull
Mystery novelist Steph Cha says she has always loved the 1940s noir private detective stories of Raymond Chandler. Picture Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. When Cha began to write her own noir mysteries, she channeled her unique spin on the voice of Chandler's tough guy protagonist Philip Marlowe. The result was detective-in-training Juniper Song, a 20-something Korean-American female looking for a post-college life in today's gritty, fast-paced, stress-fueled Los Angeles.
"One thing I really like about Chandler," Cha says, "is that he would describe things in a figurative way." This is the good and bad news about channeling Chandler for a modern mystery writer. "Philip Marlowe's interior monologues are very florid and figurative. Everything is a million mixed metaphors. There's a simile in every line." Cha acknowledges that this worked wonderfully for Chandler in another era. Today, though, it's hard to pull off in a contemporary novel. Steph Cha is a master of figurative language herself, but she says her agent asked her to pull back some of the excesses in her first Juniper Song novel.
For Cha, the use of unique and striking descriptions are part of building the voice and character of her protagonist, Juniper Song. "I don't like to write descriptions that are just the same as everyone else's. I want to make it seem like a fresh pair of eyes are looking at it," Cha says. Juniper Song's descriptions establish who she is and how unique her viewpoint is. "She's so observant and all of her emotions are coloring her descriptions," says Cha. Making Juniper's voice unique was her goal, "Marlowe-inflected but also approachable and colloquial." Beautiful writing need not be difficult to read or get in the way of story. Cha says she likes stylists who write beautifully but don’t call attention to their efforts.
Actually, the marvelous voice of Juniper Song is the first thing you notice in Steph Cha's novels. Here are a few of my favorite lines of description:
Of a male friend’s disheveled appearance: “His hair was a nest wrought by blind birds.”
Of a murderer’s inattention: “Maybe he was watching, worrying, and missed the moment when his victim made the binary leap from 1 to 0.”
Of a female actress’s face: “[she had]…a dainty chin, slightly dented in the middle like soft fruit pressed by a thumb.”
Of Los Angeles gangs: “[They were]…veins running beneath the skin of the city.”
“We leaned against the hood of his car, smoking and boozing, a quiet little picnic of sadness and vice. The sky was an oily black, starless, chilly, portentous.”
“I feared her like an insomniac fears the death of the sun.”
“Lusig’s confession stayed with me like a hangover that refused to dissipate.”
“I felt sick to my stomach, like my computer had crashed and swallowed my thesis.”
Each line tells us about Juniper Song—that she is a sensitive observer, a sharp wit, a wry sensibility, and a feeling actor in her own drama. These samples illustrate Steph Cha’s success in her effort to achieve fine writing in a voice that is seamless, accessible, and compelling.
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