LaGuardia CC Students Reflect on Theatre, "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World"

When Demetri Kapetanakos took his English 101 class to the theatre last fall, they had incredible reflections to share about Suzan-Lori Parks‘s “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World: AKA The Negro Book of the Dead.”
Please find them below, and while you’re combing through the wealth of insight in students’ thoughts, perhaps consider how these reflections can impact your pedagogy this term.
My experience attending the theatre was a bit of an exciting one. Majority of my life I have been attending Broadway musicals and it has had much of a bigger audience. The theatre was a bit small with a smaller crowd, so it was a definitely a different experience for me. I enjoyed being there with my classmates and being able to share this experience with them. This was my first time seeing an off-Broadway show that is also another reason why they experience was a bit exciting. 
The pleasures of seeing the play were the actors and how they played their roles so well. The play had a lot of excitement, including the exciting Beyoncé part, which was one of my favorites. The play involved a lot of feeling and emotion that is what I love the most about plays. Plays really make you feel like you are there while it happens and that’s another thing that I love about plays. In my eyes, the play was a bit confusing. I didn’t really understand that much what was going on but everything else about the play was great. The lighting was amazing and on point at all times. Some of the things that they said were very hard trying to interpret but I didn’t just focus on the meaning of the play I focused on the costumes and how well the actors played their role. All the actors did an amazing job, yet I was still confused on what the costumes meant as well. 
 Since the play was a bit confusing its hard for me to enhance my understanding of contemporary race as we have discussed in the classroom but to the best of my ability I would say that the black man had a lot of weight on his shoulders which was what the watermelon represented and he was trying to get rid of the watermelon but all the burden and the problems within the world was not allowing him to get rid of it.

I have seen a lot of Broadway Shows like Mamma Mia, Lion King, and Chicago, etc. in New York. I also saw Blue Man Group that includes in Off- Broadway Show. These shows were very exciting and fun for me. Also, there were lots of good music and nice dancing. Sometimes I did not understand their conversation but it was not any problem to enjoy that because I knew almost stories. That`s why I like musicals and enjoy them without any concern. In contract, I hate a play and I have never seen a play in New York. Actually, I had a chance to see a play but I avoided seeing that because I have a prejudice that all plays are very boring and not funny. I absolutely knew that I could not enjoy that and I even could not understand that because there are a lot of conversations and they want to send some messages to audience and it is difficult to find the messages. I am sure that if it were not an assignment, I would have not seen a play in my life. After I saw the play, I thought that my prejudice was partly correct and something was not correct. First of all, it was very difficult to understand. To be honest, I failed to understand the entire story. I just guessed that they wanted to tell us about Black people`s life in the world because from the beginning to end, they repeated some passages. Second, it was very funny even though I did not understand what they said. There were exciting music and dance. Especially, I loved actor and actress`s humorous faces.  

The Last Black Man in the whole Wide World
            I was waiting and exiting for the day to come to go to see the show in Broadway. Also, I was so happy because I was going to watch the show with my professor and classmates. When I got inside the place, I was surprise of the place because it was the first time I got into Broadway show. But also I was exiting to discover the place. 
           The room was so packed that I finally was able to find a seat. As sooner as I set, the show started. I was so amazed by the show because it was so vivid and alive. The pleasures were that the customs were from the past, which makes you live that time as an audience. It was very challenging to me that I could not understand the meaning of a lot of words spoken in the beginning. The play was so attracting that a queen was wearing a shining dress and her performance was so nice that I enjoyed watching her. The beauty and the curiosity that I had while watching the show is the guy holding the watermelon and started saying ” This watermelon does not belong to me”. It was a symbol of a special burden and a character of not being free. Another perfumer who was a lady who brook many eggs, for me I did not get her point but I was posed by her acts. The acting of both the man holding the watermelon and the woman cracking the eggs made me very sad that you can feel the problems that they were facing in their daily lives. The staging, the lighting and the music made the show more interesting and look as if it is real. I felt that I am living in the old days.
          I think that the play helped me shaped my vocabulary after I saw all the acting. It helped me in enhancing the understanding of the race relationship between people and how hard to survive when others are racists. Also I believe that by watching this show it made me see how difficult to live back then when racism was so intense. I believe that having a sense and an understanding of the show, one can have a big respect to the humankind and get a clear point that all races should be equal. 

This was my first time to go into a theater and actually watch live stage performance it was interesting and entertaining too. In the beginning I was impressed of how the actor was just sitting down not even moving a limb and I liked the dark glooming environment that was all around the stage the tree and the different things placed around the stage which in the beginning did not connect but started to do so during the show the lighting was used well to foreshadow a scene or tell us that something is about to happen or be said it also made us pay attention. The actors made a good use of the whole stage even though it looked small or kind of crowded. when the actors started talking I did not understand what they were saying everyone was saying something out of nowhere one talking smoothly the other yelling the tones of their voices expressed something that every character wanted to say silently I liked the acting every one did a fantastic job in their embodiment of their character its shown very well the amount of time and effort each one did to really show us what they got and also give us something to think about something that we should remember and take home in our heads I tried my best to try grasp and understand the language used I am not familiar of the nature of the shows size Lori presents so I had to pay attention and its also the first show I attend and for it to be like this at the same time it was all a challenge also another challenge was trying to understand what they said and at the same time connect it an actor said something so I then try to understand it but at the same time another actor yells saying his lines and I try to connect but its hard and another actor adds another thing so I just sit there confused so I decided to just try listen and grasp whatever I can and later piece it out together I did understand somethings which may be true or false I think each character represents the existence of the black man towards history and they spoke of how this is a huge and enormous event “the death of the last black man in the whole entire world” they spoke about people and how they set up to explore everywhere and choose later to control and enslave black people to control their free will and deem them inferior and a subject of their own exploitation the show also presented the horrors done to the black man the hanged one and they (actors) keep talking about this and then they repeat their lines and the black man continues to say someone take this watermelon let move also the younger man dies or is dying of an execution either by hanging or the electric chair and keeps saying someone get me out of this thing but no one responds. The black body and how its used was explained in the show and all the racist things done against black people were spoken about like we talked in class there’s so much to cover and analyze more but time isn’t in hand overall the show was great as I said the actors did a very good job

The play was interesting to say the least. The play didn’t meet the expectations that I had formed for the play. I didn’t think it would go the way it did, when I saw all the actors on stage I had an idea on how the play would go. I got lost quickly and the play blew my expectations. I knew coming in that it didn’t have a true beginning, middle, or end just didn’t think it would go that way. For starters I came in thinking that the play would have the actors dressed in different era clothes go in order. I was wrong! I quickly found the connection between the man with the watermelon and the boy with the red shoes. With them what stuck out to me was the repetition of the boy in the red shoes. I still remember him shouting to the top of his lungs when he was being electrocuted begging them to take off the leather straps. Him being hung scared me I was thrown so far back because of it. I was hoping nothing happened to the harness holding him. I loved when they kept saying “put that under a rock and keep it”. Repetition seemed to be real important in the play. I saw that they also played with the way the man died a lot especially the old ones one could die back then. The hanging the execution, the electric chair, and being chased. The scenes with his dead self and his wife reminded me of a Haitian author who wrote about a worker holding on to a dead baby in the same way the wife held onto his dead body. Overall I want to see the play again just to understand fully what I’m getting myself into and try to get a better understanding of it all.

This was the second play I watch in my life. The first one was “Wicked”. Both these experiences have been very confusing to me. The first Broadway show I watched was confusing because when I watched it I had only been in the country for a month. This impeded me from understanding what the characters were saying and therefore it caused me to be confused. The play we watched on Saturday was very confusing to me. I failed to understand what the watermelon represented. However, some aspects of the show that spoke to me where the cracking of the eggs, the girl saying prunes and prisms, and almost all the characters telling the girl in the front to write it under a rock under a rock. The cracking of the eggs represented to me how each black man was being killed one by one until the last one died. Then, the girl saying those words represented herself wanting to change how big her lips were to be more accepted by society. The part, in which some characters were saying that they should write it under a rock, represented to me that whoever writes history controls it because they tell them from their perspective. So far, white people have been controlling history and that is why they wanted to write it and hide it from white people so they would not be able to change it.
Personally, I enjoyed watching the show. The setting was beautiful and it transmitted a mood to the audience. The mood of apprehensiveness. I loved the part in which the characters were dancing even though I could not connect it to the play itself. I think this play enhances my understanding of race relations as we see them today because we see the stereotypes for African Americans and how they are being pushed to the limit that can result in the ending of the play. The last black man dying, not physically but in spirit.

The play, if I was to sum it up was really confusing for me. From seeing it the first time, to talking about it in class I can the see the bigger picture in the play. From my point of view, the play openly showed the events of how the world would treat the death of the last black man in the world. And in my opinion, they literally showed it like an eye-catching play in the play. Especially like the man who looked like he was in the circus and what I mean by that, is that man was dressed as like the person who starts the circus show to let you know what is happening. And everyone in the play was acting as if the death of the last black man was nothing but something as a play to make people watch it. That may be obvious to us in the class but if someone else came to watch it, with little knowledge, they would see the same result. So the main reason of the play is explained easily but the later parts that were explained are what confused me like the later backstory. But aside from the play itself, the experience of going was really great, just meeting new people and having great experiences with everyone from the class felt really good, and also because it was my first time going to see a play.

I had a great experience on attending the play with my class. I was waiting for the day of the play to come as I was curious as to what it was like to watch a play with my classmates and its meaning to what we’re learning in class discussing the “black lives matter” movement. It was my first time attending a play, as I’m not a person that is attractive to that. The play was enjoyable to watch even though there were some confusing moments for me that I didn’t understand. One of my favorite parts during the play was when the actors were dancing especially the tall man with the cane and the part where the woman cracks all those eggs in a short period of time. I thought the set shows how life was like for the black body 200 + years ago with the clothing of some of the actors and the feather the main actor had to taste was more reminiscent what the black body had to face on a daily basis. The acting overall was spot on and was a pleasure to watch something where those people acting for us devoted hard work. I thought the play show some things we’ve learned in class. When the actor was apparently tired up to the chair for no reason, it made me make flashbacks to what Rankine kept saying in her poem like ” you fit the description” and “this is wrong” in stop and frisk. It also gives me a better interpretation of what the black body had to face back then and even though times have changed, the black body is still being treated differently than the white body here in the United States today just like how it’s been treated for the last few centuries now.

Reflection on the Last Black Man
The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World was my first Off-Broadway show and my expectations were pretty high. Knowing that the play would act out the issue of modern racism I expected the play to include the events that are happening now. However, within the first ten minutes of the play I was extremely confused. As stated in the study guide the play does not go through like a traditional play and takes pride of being confusing and out of paces because they want it to mimic how the world is confusing, however, because I did not come to class the day when the class was given a brief overview of the play as stated before lost and confused, but after reading the study guide I believe the director made a smart decision to purposefully confuse the audience and at the end have them really think about how the play is connected to society today.  I also noticed after watching the play and reading the study that it connects to the topic of Black Death. For those who have read “The Weight” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansan understand what the term Black Death, to me the play was like a visual representation of what Black Death is like in the afterlife. Since the study guides explains that main character Black Man With Watermelon is having his funeral and is the last black man in the whole entire world it made me connect that this particular character died from a Black Death but refuses to “rest” until he understand why he died and find a credible reason as to why he died rather than “resting ” immediately. I also appreciated the stage art and the use of lighting to depict the mood of every scene but the dialog and the dancing threw me off. There were some scenes that I was interested about for example the symbolism of the watermelon. I thought this was an important seen because it allows the viewer to visually understand that the stereotypes that are labeled on to African-Americans were not created by them and the fact that that stereotype of Watermelon is still being carried on to day shows how embedded stereotyping is in their history whether they want to be a part of it or not.

The Death of the last Black Man in the Whole Entire World was my eleventh show I saw but it wasn’t the best one I seen so far. Although the show was interesting to see it was also very confusing to under stand. This wasn’t the most exciting thing I have seen before but I think I know where the director was going with it. The show is about a guy who is the last black male in the world and he should leave something behind to show the future humanity that there were black males and females living in this world.

The show was something I wasn’t expecting. I feel like the title says more then the actual show was explaining. The tittle is so strong but the show is just to confusing to see where it was trying to go. There wasn’t much that I like from the show. But the actors were very good playing their roles. If I were the director I would of make the play a little more simpler to understand for the audience wouldn’t be so confuse on what they were watching. I believe this show is trying to say one thing but the way the director made it, it wasn’t to clear on what was going on.
The play really didn’t help me out on what’s going on with race in this country. I just feel like the show was more foolish then it was trying to show what is going on with humanity in this country. When we talk as a group in class that gives me a better understanding about race and what does race mean to us. I rather hear a person from our class telling us about them and their life struggle as a Black, White, Hispanic, Latino, Hindu or Asian person then seeing a play that I didn’t really understand. Everyone is different so everyone lives a different so I rather hear what he or she has to say in our class about what goes on in their lives.
The show was rather interesting but I wasn’t a big fan. But the cast did a great job playing their role and they did a great job staying in character. If the show wasn’t so confusing then maybe I could of understand what the director was trying to say she wrote this play.

The Last Black Man in the Entire World (Journal Entry #4)
The whole English 101 class and myself have attended the play The Last Black Man in the Entire World by Suzan Lori-Parks. The play took place in Broadway Theater located on 42nd street between 9th and 10th avenue; it wasn’t too far upon departing the 7 train on 42nd street Times Square. It was my first time ever witnessing a play in that particular theater but however it was not my first play to have seen before as I have seen Mama Mia & Cats before with family in Broadhurst Theatre 235 W 44th street, New York, NY 10036. The Broadway Theater was clean and held a diverse audience of many different backgrounds. I did however found the theater to be cramped and constricting with not much room upon the seating area as I had many bags with me on that day. Upon entering the theater, I had mixed emotions regarding the play, excitement, confusion, happiness, depression, and curiosity on what I am about to witness. The play was 70 minutes in total with no intermissions.
During the beginning of the play I was under extreme confusion as it was not a typical play that I am used to, it was one that struck me as out of the ordinary (ref. image 1). There was what appeared to be an African American man wearing denim overalls holding a watermelon in complete silence. As the play continued there were other African American actors and actresses all dressed in different kinds of unusual attire. One was wearing a black and white suit and played the part of a broadcaster. A woman wearing an all-golden beautiful sequin gown with a slit by the right leg, she held a very interesting and sassy attitude that brought drama and flair towards the play. Another person was dressed in a colorful suit and held mannerisms of such that appears to be from the 1950’s. Also, a young character dressed in all black with a hooded top and denim jeans with all red monochromatic sneakers representing clothes of today’s fashion. From the characters’ attire alone I can conclude that the play incorporated different timelines (ref. image 2).
Many events were occurring during the play. An African American woman breaking eggs, and three watermelons being placed on the floor to hold a significant meaning and a man sitting in an electric chair getting electrocuted. In the middle of the play the actors portrayed the act of suffocation through hanging oneself on a noose. Many phrases were recited during the play in repetition, “Prunes and prisons”, “Turned on the juicer on me”, “6/6/6 who did? The Hindus did”, “I jumped in the water without a word”, “Fell from 23 floors”, “Write that down and hide it under a rock”. The lighting and acoustics played a significant part in the play, invoking fear and excitement. Changing the colors (purple, green, and, blue) and the intensity of said lights with the synchronization of volume in the sound amplified these emotions. Not only was I at the edge of my seating looking for more but also I was frightened (ref. image 3). During these scenes, I felt as If I was in the center of the stage subject to various types of torture and death. 
Suzan Lori-Parks’ The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World enhances my views regarding race relations as it displayed the discrimination towards African Americans through time. Racism today is projected differently than how it was projected before. Racism still exists today but not in the outwardly obvious ways as it was in the past as people are becoming less vocal. Yet the effects are still present such as the African American incarcerated population outnumbering the number of slaves held in the past being subject to life imprisonment and death row. Population control done in forms of vaccines to sterilize minorities and many other experiments done without consent (e.g. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment of 1973). From the play, I can conclude a message of concern towards the discrimination of African Americans as it holds fatal results. Results that will still remain in American society and will continue to grow and take shapes of different means. Fatal in that it may conclude in the extinction of the African American race hence the title The Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World. The message is deep and depressing to know that it is not fiction but only a reflection of the society we live in. I feel, as I am truly lucky and fortunate to witness such a controversial and famous play, as the message is to wake us up to such matters rather than to live life in seclusion towards depressing matters.

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