By: Margaret Sands
When the Free Southern Theater was started in 1963 it was meant as a “theater for those who have no theater” their final work, Don’t Start Me To Talking or I’ll Tell Everything I Know, Sayings from the Life and Writings of Junebug Jabbo Jones introduced a storyteller for those whose story was still largely untold. Junebug Jabbo Jones followed the civil rights theater movement through its evolution into Junebug Productions. Approximately a decade later, Jose Rivera, a beloved artistic representative of Puerto Ricans in America, introduced Marisol on the stage to tell another untold story, and deliver a warning. Both these characters exist on stage in worlds saturated with symbols of the real worlds that birthed them. They work hard to personify and bring to light daily struggles that often go unnoticed or discussed. As Junebug says, “a storyteller, that’s somebody taking uncovered things so everybody can get some good out of it,” both these characters take their job very seriously.
Junebug Jabbo Jones comes to us from his rural home in Mississippi, a place historically rife with racial tensions and barriers. His first story is one of life as a cotton picker, a classic old south image developed here with a new twist. When Junebug notices the supervisor trying to cheat the workers with a rigged scale; he takes his complaint to the plantation owner. The land owner brushes over the “misunderstanding” with the usual Southern eloquence , not a particularly surprising reaction, but Junebug does not back down as expected. Instead, he rallies the other workers, dumps the bags of already picked cotton on the ground, and refuses to work without proper wages. This act of solidarity and rebellion would have been unthinkable at one time, but instead the gesture speaks to the evolution of the new South, and an important step towards much needed equality.
While the actions of Junebug Jabbo Jones blew a promising wind of change across his stage world, the world on the stage of Marisol appears to be crumbling around her, and turning to salt. We find out within the first few minutes of the play that the world that our young Puerto Rican heroine inhabits is one void of apples, the color blue, and even the moon has gone missing. Basic human compassion also appears to be in great danger. Homeless people are burned alive by Nazi skinheads and the police arrest people with bad credit ratings to be tortured in a windowless warehouse in Brooklyn. Coffee too is extinct. Coffee, which might be considered the lifeblood of modern society, has now been lost with all it represents. No more waking up to that promising fresh roasted smell of morning, no more sharing a cup of coffee with friends, and no more push to make it through that extra hour in hopes of earning a better tomorrow. The picture painted in Marisol is bleak, hopeless. Marisol is just one of many, in fact it is stated that there are seven pages of Marisol Perezes in the phone book, struggling to find her place in the new world order. Unlike Junebug, she ignores calls to join the resistance and fight the world’s imminent demise She does not want to be a warrior, all she wants is to once again have “ability to read about the misery of the world and not lose a moment outta my busy day.” But she soon finds that once your eyes have been opened to the woes of the world, it is hard to shut them again. Junebug Jabbo Jones learns this when he takes a bus to New Orleans.
Thanks to Rosa Parks, buses have become one of the best known battle grounds of the civil rights movement. This particular bus, what Junebug called a Jim Crow bus, carried him from the small town familiar to the big city, and the new problems waiting for him. Upon arriving in the Big Easy he was confronted with an issue that is nearly inconceivable to the modern generation. Fewer and fewer restaurants these days even have smoking sections now, it is hard to imagine a time when seating was determined by race, or that a grown man could be arrested for taking a seat at a lunch counter. But this was the welcome waiting for Junebug in the Crescent City. It is not surprising that such blatant discrimination and dehumanization turned its victims into warriors, warriors of change and equality. Junebug’s time in jail changed his life’s course and sent him on an unusual warpath. When he is released, Junebug goes to work as a shoe shiner, where he is once again subservient to white patrons. One is particularly distasteful and despicable, but Junebug soon finds a way to teach him an underhanded lesson. By ruining this cocky client’s white suit with spilled coffee and smeared shoe shine, Junebug sends a blatant message, without outright confrontation. He may still be in a position of subservience but he is fighting it with cunning and vengeance.
While Junebug’s incarceration was a turning point in his story, Marisol experiences the harshness of modern homelessness first hand and is forced to face the realities of the world. In Marisol’s world, compassion is as absent as the moon, and cruelty and discrimination are the law of the land. Those who are still living do so in fear and isolation. Blue has gone from the sky, blue, the color of Picasso’s sorrow and the hope of the horizon. Apples too are absent, apples which for centuries have stood as a representation of original sin, but also the fruits from the tree of knowledge. Perhaps their absence means that there are no more sins left to be plucked, and that knowledge too is no longer attainable. Only ignorance is left, the root of prejudice and hatred. Even the moon has wandered off, though the Pentagon plans to pull it back and chain it to the Earth. Such an unearthly act could only result in more misery for all those living under that captive moon. Even the heavenly bodies have lost their freedom, and with that the last shreds of compassion and empathy leak from the universe. Though Marisol tries several times on her journey to reach out to others, for protection, for company, no such connection is made. She is left alone until the end realizing that, “we have to start at the beginning, don’t we?” But starting at the beginning first requires an end, and Marisol’s end is a bitter one.
The end of Junebug’s story lies in Tommy Too Tough Tucker. Tommy was a bebop DJ on the local radio station. He lived for the music born of improvisation, through his clothes, his stride, and his tunes. When his show started making real money, “they” took it away and replaced him. Tommy was too old for a new beginning, so instead he arranged some junk on the side of the road to look like a radio station, and played records that only he could hear. “They” took his show, his music, and his livelihood, and he was left scatting into a tin can. The sad defeated look on Junebug’s face as he finishes Tommy’s story, and the way his song trails off into silence tells us that maybe the world turned out to be too tough for Tommy. Such an end calls for a new beginning, and though one is not begun in this play, the call for it hangs in the air after Junebug has left.
Before he leaves, Junebug advises us to look at the bigger picture and expresses a hope that our future meetings will be amiable. Perhaps with enough of encounters of that nature a new norm can be set and a new story told. When Marisol finally sees the bigger picture, she finally accepts her mission to join the revolution of the angels and fight for a new future. Despite their struggles, both characters close their stories with a silver lining. That lining hints that one day there may be apples, one day there may be seating without segregation, and one day there may be change. “Oh God. What light. What possibilities. What hope.” (Marisol)
Marisol by: Jose Rivera