Two frankly offensive one-acts about lynching and American racism

British playwright Edward Bond's 1976 play A-A-America! consists of two frankly offensive one-acts about lynching and American racism. The first, "Grandma Faust," is a cartoonish Brer Rabbit-style tale about a Southern yokel named Uncle Sam who makes a Faustian deal with his devilish grandmother. Grandma Faust promises good luck to Sam if he can auction the soul of a black man, Paul, but Paul proves too clever for the white folk and escapes downriver before local ladies can turn him into "nigger foot pie." This broad, nightmare farce works, barely, because of committed performances from Algin Ford, as Paul, and Linda Jones as the sinister, coil-voiced grandmother. The second piece is stronger, though. "The Swing" shows Paul in a realistic Southern town circa 1911, working as a mild-mannered family servant in the shabby-genteel home of an actress. One thing leads to another, and Paul finds himself accused of rape and sentenced to sit on a swing in a theater while patrons shoot him with revolvers. (Something similar really happened in a Livermore, Ky., opera house in 1911.) The play -- like the "lynching" itself -- anticipates Natural Born Killers, with its mixture of mindless entertainment and live-feed violence as a criticism of American culture. Ford and Jones do more of their excellent work here, and Cassie Beck adds to it with a strong performance as an overheated schoolmistress, but the play is still hard to watch, because it offers up racism and murder as a kind of voyeurism, which after all was the whole sick point of a lynching.

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