Thursday, February 28, 2013

Brothers in Exile – A Play by Jake Lamar


When I published the Black Paris Profile on Jake Lamar in November 2011, he had already begun work on a play about the friendship/rivalry between Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes in Paris in the 1950s. He was writing it in both English and French and planned to begin “workshopping” it (having actors and a director playing out scenes before a play goes into formal rehearsals) within a year.

Fast forward to 2013…

On February 25th, Jake’s dream was realized when Beaumarchais-SACD – a French association that supports writers and producers of the performing arts – sponsored a reading of Brothers in Exile. Because I love the theater and because it is rare to be able to associate French theater with the African-American presence in Paris, I was determined to attend. I was proud to be present at this historic event!

The evening unfolded in the Salle Jean Tardieu at the Théâtre du Rond Point, near the roundabout where avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt meets the Champs Elysées. The salle (room), which holds 176 persons, was filled to capacity.

Théâtre du Rond Point
© Discover Paris!


A screening of an outstanding French short film (Avant que de Tout Perdre – 30 minutes) was followed by the main attraction, where a cast of three principle actors, a reader, and five additional characters breathed life into Brothers in Exile on stage for the first time.

The Cast
© Discover Paris!


The fictional story revolves around Wright’s death and an official inquiry by the French authorities into Himes’ and Baldwin’s potential involvement. It moves back and forth in time. For this one-time staging, William Nadylam played Richard Wright, Cyrl Guei portrayed James Baldwin, and Alex Descas represented Chester Himes.

William Nadylam as Richard Wright
© Discover Paris!

Cyril Guei as James Baldwin
© Discover Paris!

Alex Descas as Chester Himes
© Discover Paris!

The reading was performed in French. To see French actors interpreting these quintessentially American personas was fascinating! One of my favorite moments during the reading occurred during an exchange between Wright and Himes. Nadylam (Wright) emphasized the syllable “po” in the French word “policier,” which means “crime story.” He was evoking the way in which many African Americans emphasize the syllable “po” when they talk about the police. It was comical cultural reference that was lost on most of the French audience.

Jake had wanted to write a novel about the relationship between Wright and Baldwin since his days in New York. He learned of the confrontation that occurred between the two authors at the Deux Magots café on boulevard Saint Germain des Prés when he was a student at Harvard during the early 80s. In researching his 2001 Washington Post review of the Hazel Rowley biography of Wright, he learned that Chester Himes had been present during this altercation. Later, upon reading the first volume of Chester Himes’ autobiography – The Quality of Hurt – he read Himes’ version of what had transpired. Now Himes would play a role in the novel that he had been envisioning.

Then, on April 30, 2011, it suddenly occurred to him that the novel he wanted to write should be a play. Through his work at the community theater in Bobigny (MC 93), he had learned that the stage provides much more creative freedom than he realized and saw the potential in having the voices of his three protagonists be heard as opposed to simply being read. He created a one-page sketch as the outline for the play and remained faithful to it throughout most of the writing process.

Jake began researching the play in earnest in early summer 2011 and also began the search for financial backing, writing proposals in English and French. This is when he learned of the grants that Beaumarchais-SACD offers to support creators of theater, dance, film, and other performing arts. He submitted his proposal in October 2011 and in February 2012 he learned that his was one of three out of 250 submissions to be accepted for funding!

Having written numerous articles and books, Jake was surprised to find that he never enjoyed writing anything as much as he enjoyed writing Brothers in Exile. He loved writing for Wright, Himes, and Baldwin, inventing circumstances for them but building those circumstances around the information that he learned from reading books by and about these authors. He finished the English version in August 2012 and then began work on the French translation with his wife Dorli. One full year after submitting his proposal to Beaumarchais, he finished the play.

Jake was responsible for finding the director and the actors for the reading. Through personal and professional connections, he engaged the three principal actors and director Pierre Laville. Laville was responsible for casting the remaining actors.

What lies ahead for Brothers in Exile? Jake’s agent has submitted the play to numerous theaters in London, New York, and a couple of additional theaters on the East Coast in the U.S. Jake has personally submitted proposals to theaters in France.

A suivre… To be continued…

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1 comment:

Chavez Adams said...

Hello. My name is Chavez and I am traveling to Paris, France over the summer. I wanted to know what areas in the city are considered the black diaspora? If you could email me at chavezradams@gmail.com that would be wonderful. Thanks!