Black lesbian poet Pamela Sneed begins her monologue, America Ain't Ready, beneath the projection of a famous photo portrait of Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde. You know the one: Lorde slightly lowering the professorial, thin-rimmed glasses from her eyes, her Black Mona Lisa smile pleasant enough until you realize that she's likely about to say something America Ain't Ready for.
|Pamela Sneed in "America Ain't Ready" (photo by Lisa Guido)|
Lorde's revered presence hovers over Sneed throughout this marathon performance, inspiring, instigating, protecting. And Sneed needs that strength right now because, as we learn, she's performing through a world of pain. Not emotional pain--which also could be the case, of course--but physical pain from complex, enormously costly dental problems. She is an artist without health insurance in an America that ain't ready for universal single payer health care any more than it's ready to compensate artists for the intense, dedicated and crucial work that they do.
Sneed begins by reminding us that Lorde insisted that "poetry is not a luxury." It's a necessity. She invites us to imagine a world without all of the arts and artists. Her itemization of our potential losses is staggering. Here, at Dixon Place, through strain and rage, she preaches to the choir, and you want to send her to Capitol Hill to put the fear of God in those supposedly God-fearing Republicans (and some Democrats, too). She's the woman for the job. And, while we're talking job--damn it--if you ever ask Sneed, or any artist, to do a job, be sure to pay her for it.
America Ain't Ready, adapted from a book-length epic poem, diagnoses perhaps a few too many things that ail this society. However, Sneed's performance, as real as it can get, sears its way into your consciousness. Her aim: To wake up as many people as possible before it is too late to achieve the America in which she still believes. We all have work to do.
Hot! Festival 2011--Dixon Place's 20th Annual NYC Celebration of Queer Culture--continues through August 6 with a mix of "theater, dance, music, burlesques, performance art and homoeroticism for the whole family." Find out more and make ticket reservations here.
161A Chrystie Street (between Rivington and Delancey Streets), Manhattan
(map and directions)