I returned home last Friday night unimpressed by Architecting, the play by the theater group TEAM currently running at PS122. There were aspects I liked, including its weird and exhaustive length (advertised at 150 minutes, but I believe I left the theater well after 10 PM for a show that started at 7:30 PM) and the physical energy and dream-state imagery of the second act. What I disliked and was even offended by were the attempts to recuperate the reputation of Margaret Mitchell and her repugnant novel (they even sold copies of Gone with the Wind in the lobby, signed by the cast!)

Why can’t people ever just admit that something is racist and move on? Why this effort to find something salvageable in the ressentiment of “the lost cause”? Why play a switcheroo between Mitchell’s Atlanta, destroyed by General Sherman in the Civil War, and New Orleans, devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Bush? Why have not one but several black characters played in quasi-blackface by a white actor (meaning no face paint, but other elements of the blackface performance tradition, including the “mammy” fat suit, and dialect speech) instead of braving a — gasp — integrated production?

The critics have gone ga ga over Architecting, including this ludicrous comment from Backstage:

In a particularly bold and intelligent scene drawn from Gone With the Wind, a question arises: Who was more racist, the Southern slaveholder whose babies were raised by “darkies” she considered “members of her family,” or the Northern abolitionist who, looking to find a new Irish house servant, was appalled by the suggestion that she have someone she calls a “nigger” in her home?

This is a particularly safe and ignorant remark to make: ignorant because it replaces the actual history of Reconstruction with Mitchell’s self-serving myth of the lost cause (complete with racist northern abolitionists). Safe, because, even in Obama’s America, apparently no one will ever call folk out on their ignorance of history. Which begs the question: why bother to recuperate Mitchell in the first place, when something very much like her paternalistic stance towards blacks has never gone out of vogue?

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