Wine in the Wilderness (1969)
by Alice Childress
A riot is going on, and a gifted and somewhat narcissistic artist is focused on finishing his triptych representing African femininity. It's called "Wine in the Wilderness" from the Omar Khayyám poem. Bill is single-minded to find his third muse, albeit a "messed up chick, the worst gal in town." Well, some friends find the perfect model, Tommy (Short for “Tomorrow Marie”), who's just been burned out of her house. And as soon as she enters we feel ourselves starting to feel for her, to root for her and to see her light, and we cringe at the coming revelation of what she is modeling for. Childress is great at drawing out the painful revelation and exacerbating matters with both hope and passion. It gets harsh as all is laid open, but eventually there is a united ending that could be pulled off with the right company.
Childress is best with great female characterizations, with dialogue and with the gradual grind of drama and conflict. She can get heady, and the play is heavy on the history, but it is arguable given the setting and scenario. This play is for an all-black cast and feels very much part of the black power time period. She stopped writing for interracial casts largely because of trouble getting them produced. The projection of judgment onto black females in the real world by black men and society generally is the topic, and it teaches us by taking us inside the power, vulnerability and subjectivity of the subjugated character, as her plays are wont to do. She's really an outstanding playwright and deserves a festival of her work.