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The sounds of a tennis match. The living/dining room is a tastefully elegant and spare NYC loft. In the room is contemporary work by artists representing the victimization of African Americans and Rauschenberg's White Painting. They are well lit and prominent in the space. The art pieces are projected on canvasses around the white room. Everything in the room is white except for the art. The round dining table gestures toward dinner but need not have actual settings. Over the mantel is a piece of art covered by a cloth. At the back of the stage, doors lead onto a terrace. If possible the audience surrounds the dinner party to enable audience members to also be looking at each other.
This is a lovely Saturday night in Tribeca, March 2017. The new administration has been in office for three months and the Spencers are awaiting their guest. From the balcony the city lights are in full view. Eric, Charles, and Virginia are watching the Australian Open a month after it aired.
VIRGINIA: Serena is a beauty.
ERIC: I prefer Venus.
VIRGINIA: They're both stunning.
ERIC: You're stunning.
VIRGINIA: Well, I suppose all people are stunning — what's your issue with Serena?
ERIC: I don't have to love everyone. In any case, she's okay.
CHARLES: Okay? Serena is anything but.
VIRGINIA: Who would have thought the sisters would play each other again in a final this late in their careers. My favorite thing is watching Serena win.
ERIC: Why are you watching if you know the outcome? What fun is that?
VIRGINIA: I don't watch her until after; I get too nervous. But I did want to see the Australian Open finals before the next Grand Slam came around. Can you tell she's pregnant?
CHARLES: (looking at TV) She's pregnant? While she's competing?
ERIC: I read she got some hormonal rush from the pregnancy. People were complaining it was an unfair advantage.
VIRGINIA: Now, that's insane. I spent my first trimesters between the bathroom and the sofa. Why are men so challenged by the Williams sisters?
ERIC: I don't have a problem —
CHARLES: (interrupting) She means men like that Russian tennis guy from a few years ago? That was the worst.
VIRGINIA: He said they were scary to look at.
CHARLES: I vaguely remember him calling the sisters "brothers" or something like that.
VIRGINIA: It's no different from what was said about the former first lady.
CHARLES: That I distinctly remember.
VIRGINIA: It's hard to forget.
ERIC: Remind me.
VIRGINIA: An ape in high heels.
ERIC: Some guy actually said that?
VIRGINIA: A woman in government.
ERIC: A woman? Wow. People. Jesus. Charles, I thought we might just check in before Charlotte arrives.
CHARLES: What's on your mind? (Charles hands Eric an hors d'oeuvre and a napkin.)
ERIC: Where's Lily?
CHARLES: We've given Lily the night off. Virginia thought the evening would be more informal that way.
ERIC: Ah, I understand.
VIRGINIA: Anything we should know?
ERIC: No, no, no. She's lovely. Charlotte's one of us. I just wanted to touch base regarding a few things.
CHARLES: Yes, of course.
ERIC: Remember, she hasn't committed to giving us the new series and she's not doing individual pieces.
VIRGINIA: That must take other collectors out of the running.
ERIC: Almost everyone, all the way out. She knows that to be collected by you will send her prices up here in New York but also in London, Zurich, and L.A. In the past, she has refused some collectors on principle, but I know that won't be a problem here.
VIRGINIA: What do you mean refuse?
ERIC: Some artists can't separate themselves from their work. I think she's one of those. She doesn't have children; the work is everything to her — so she won't sell it to just anybody. She needs the collector to be invested in the spirit of the work. She needs money, yeah, but it can be tricky with her.
CHARLES: That makes sense to me. I imagine we'll be her perfect collaborators.
VIRGINIA: Does she know Charles is interested in the pieces we saw in Miami?
CHARLES: Eric says those are committed. Will she bring a sample of the new work?
ERIC: I billed this as just a dinner. I hope that's okay. She's not showing the new work to anyone at this point, but from what she's told me, it sounds very compelling.
CHARLES: But still with an emphasis on racial injustice?
ERIC: Still elegiac.
VIRGINIA: That must be her now.
(No one moves.)
ERIC: Is someone going to let her in?
VIRGINIA: Oh right. Charles?
ERIC: I'll let her in. (He goes to get the door.)
CHARLES: And where is Alex?
VIRGINIA: I told him to be here by seven.
CHARLES: As if he does anything we tell him.
VIRGINIA: Go easy tonight.
(Eric reenters with Charlotte.)
ERIC: Virginia, Charles — It's my pleasure to present the artist of the twenty-first century.
CHARLES: My dear Ms. Cummings. So good of you to come.
CHARLOTTE: Please call me Charlotte.
CHARLES: Your picture doesn't do you justice. We saw your impressive work at Art Basel and the Armory. And of course the photocollages from Ferguson are unforgettable.
VIRGINIA: I'm Virginia. Welcome.
CHARLOTTE: Thank you.
VIRGINIA: Your coat? Charles, do take Charlotte's coat. Eric says we haven't met, but I know we've been introduced. We met at Jack Shainman Gallery.
CHARLOTTE: I don't ...
ERIC: Jack Shainman? I introduced you to ... that wasn't Charlotte.
VIRGINIA: Yes it was.
CHARLES: I assume it's champagne all around.
CHARLOTTE: Thank you. You have a beautiful home. Wow, you have one of Rauschenberg's White Paintings. The light on it makes everything really ... bright.
CHARLES: Despite the fact they are monochromatic it's amazing how much it changes with the light. It was curated to brighten the room.
VIRGINIA: Actually, it's just a piece I wanted. Charles curated the rest. It's a lot of history to see every day. Luckily most of them are at the foundation.
ERIC: These here are some of the works that are most meaningful to Charles.
CHARLES: Not all the artists are African American, but all the work considers the violence against them.
ERIC: Charlotte's work is what's missing from our collection.
VIRGINIA: Charles likes to wear his commitment on the walls. I personally can think of other places for him to put it, but we agree to disagree. Don't we, sweetheart?
CHARLES: I guess we do. Charlotte, do you know Robert Longo's work? This one is untitled but it's of Ferguson police, August 13, 2014. His work critiques fascism.
CHARLOTTE: Hmmm, I'm not sure I understand how fascism's being critiqued.
CHARLES: All that white, smoky charcoal obscuring the faceless police? I —
VIRGINIA: (interrupting) I like it. It's atmospheric and not as graphic.
CHARLOTTE: That's my point.
ERIC: If I remember correctly the painting is based on an actual photograph.
CHARLES: You know it is.
VIRGINIA: Eric likes to pretend he doesn't know all he knows. Isn't that right, Eric?
CHARLOTTE: (playful) He's the epitome of humility.
CHARLES: He knows good work when he sees it. And so do I.
ERIC: Charlotte, I think that's meant for you.
VIRGINIA: Yes, Charlotte, all eyes are on you.
CHARLOTTE: My friends say such good things about working with you. Glenn Ligon was so pleased we were finally connecting.
CHARLES: Glenn, yes. We have a number of his pieces, but this one here is from the Million Man March. It's an early piece focusing on the social and economic stresses that black men face.
VIRGINIA: Come, let me show you this other piece. It's called Defacement: The Death of Michael ... Michael Stewart, that's right. He was a Pratt student, graffiti artist, who was beaten into a coma by police. He died. This is about as real as I can handle it.
CHARLOTTE: I've never seen this Basquiat. It takes my breath away.
VIRGINIA: We just acquired it. It's all Charles looks at.
CHARLOTTE: There's so much to see. I've read about your collection in Artforum. So many artists here who have inspired me. I'm really honored to be with you tonight.
VIRGINIA: We're delighted that you're here as well. Charles takes his stable of artists quite seriously. For him you're not just an investment, he believes you're leading a conversation with the culture.
(Charlotte and Virginia move away to look at the Basquiat. Eric sees a piece covered by a cloth. He turns to Charles.)
ERIC: Charles, are you acquiring art behind my back?
CHARLES: Oh, no, no, this is something special! Someone brought it directly to me.
ERIC: Should I be worried?
CHARLES: You? Never. I'm surprised you'd even ask that. You're practically a member of this family.
ERIC: Can we see it?
CHARLES: After Alex arrives. We acquired it with him in mind.
ERIC: You didn't mention Alex would be joining us.
CHARLES: He should be here any minute. We thought he'd enjoy meeting Charlotte.
ERIC: I wish I'd known he was coming. The last time ...
(Virginia and Charlotte approach.)
CHARLES: No worries, man. His interests and Charlotte's work align. Theywill be on the same page. Ginny wants to do an unveiling of the new piece after dinner. You know how much she loves curating our experiences. (Turning to Charlotte.) Our son Alex will be joining us. Despite the fact that the election is history now, I'm delighted to say he's at a Trump rally.
CHARLOTTE: You don't mean he supports ... VIRGINIA: Oh, no, quite the opposite. Charles meant to say protest, not rally.
CHARLES: (laughs) My dear, don't worry, you're safe here. Since the election Alex is even more politically engaged than he was before. I hardly know when he has time for classes. Every day there's another rally.
CHARLOTTE: Charles isn't wrong. The president throws himself rallies. He threw one in Florida.
CHARLES: College students were extremely invested in this election.
VIRGINIA: In Bernie ... I'm not sure that they voted.
CHARLOTTE: He must have been crushed. Is he your only child?
VIRGINIA: Is he our only child, Charles?
CHARLES: (shooting Virginia a look) Alex has an older brother. And make no mistake, we were all crushed.
ERIC: (cutting in) Virginia, you are looking fabulous as always. Still playing tennis?
VIRGINIA: Pilates. These past weeks the closest I get to a court is thinking about Serena. (Turns to Charlotte.) We were just TiVoing the Australian Open when you arrived.
CHARLES: Ginny doesn't do real time! Bad for the stress lines.
VIRGINIA: Steady. (To Charlotte.) Do you play?
CHARLOTTE: Yes, I do. At the Greenvale Club.
VIRGINIA: That's where I play, too, but it's getting too difficult to get a court. Too many people there now.
CHARLES: What should I be worried about when we play?
CHARLOTTE: Not much. I wish I could serve like Serena.
CHARLES: Not so long ago she was unbeatable.
CHARLOTTE: Did you know she's pregnant?
VIRGINIA: Yes, we were just discussing that. She's really matured. A couple of years ago she went back to Indian Wells despite what happened there ... Charles, you remember, we were there, the usual racial slurs ... the sisters boycotted it for years. (Turning to Charlotte.) Isn't that right?
CHARLOTTE: Objecting to racism means you're childish?
ERIC: Similar things were said about Colin Kaepernick.
CHARLES: I'm not sure about his method. Kneeling during the national anthem is unnecessarily provocative. But he's right about the injustice. Anyone for more champagne?
ERIC: I won't twist your arm. Charlotte, we're so excited about your new work. Why don't you tell us what you're doing?
CHARLOTTE: Well, I like to think of myself as a bit of an archaeologist. I've always been interested in what gets lost ... who gets left out of the picture.
CHARLOTTE: Made invisible. The writer Teju Cole says, "We need to think with our eyes."
VIRGINIA: I'm still reading the book by that other fabulous black author ... Ta Ta ...
ERIC: Ta-Neheezi Coates.
CHARLOTTE: Ta-Nehisi ...
ERIC: Isn't that what I said?
VIRGINIA: That's it ... Ta-Nehisi. The World between Us. I'm sure you've read it.
CHARLOTTE: Yes, Between the World and Me. I love when Coates says he wants his son to know that no matter what happens he always has people.
CHARLES: Speaking of people, I enjoyed the piece he wrote called "My Obama."
CHARLOTTE: I loved that. "My Black President" I think it was called.
VIRGINIA: You're both wrong. The piece is called "My President Was Black."
CHARLES: Charlotte, dear, what were you saying about Teju Cole's work?
CHARLOTTE: Only that I'm intrigued by his interest in how we think about the unseen ... how we make what's unseen visible. I guess you could say Coates is doing the same thing.
VIRGINIA: Is that the ambition you have for yourself? I mean, for your work?
CHARLOTTE: Ambition? I do want people to experience what black people are feeling, or if that's unreasonable, at the very least, to recognize what it means to live precariously.
VIRGINIA: (genuine feeling) What kinds of feelings am I not feeling?
CHARLES: That's why your work is so important to people like us.
CHARLOTTE: Inasmuch as the work makes visible things that white people might not have to negotiate in the day-to-day, it might seem that way ... VIRGINIA: But what kinds of feelings?
CHARLOTTE: Mourning for dead strangers with whom I share only one thing.
VIRGINIA: I feel terrible for all those mothers who lost their sons.
CHARLES: And daughters, Ginny. I think Charlotte means race as the shared attribute.
CHARLOTTE: I did. But the work doesn't exist from a single perspective. All those dead men, women, and children have mothers and fathers. It's true.
ERIC: Her creative process involves staging her pictures.
CHARLOTTE: I'm trying to bring into focus events that are immediately forgotten. I realized the only way to capture passing moments was to restage and photograph. You know Jeff Wall's approach?
ERIC: I've always been interested in Wall's decision to reenact moments that he's missed. His photographs portray what he calls existing "unfreedoms."
ERIC: Reactions that happen before you have time to think —
VIRGINIA: Our son Alex uses the term microaggression. Is that the same thing?
CHARLOTTE: I don't know exactly what Wall was thinking. Clutching your purse or crossing the street when a black man approaches comes to mind as something people do.
ERIC: Still, he rarely deals with race.
CHARLOTTE: Racism, you mean. There's his Invisible Man piece.
ERIC: I can only think of his image Mimic, where a guy points to his eyes as he walks by an Asian man. I'd say your current work differs in significant ways.
CHARLOTTE: My early work really wasn't procedurally that different, to be honest.
ERIC: That's true. Charlotte started by staging small inadvertent aggressions that are overlooked or repressed in our day-to-day life.
CHARLOTTE: For example, once I was in the subway and I watched a middle-aged white guy so intent on where he was going he didn't see he'd knocked over my cousin's daughter. We were all heading back from a tennis match at Flushing Meadows actually.
ERIC: She restaged it and was able to catch the moment the child hit the ground.
VIRGINIA: You had someone knock down a child so you could take a picture?
CHARLOTTE: Yes, I mean, no. The child was an actor.
VIRGINIA: So, yes.
ERIC: She's fine. She practiced falling.
CHARLOTTE: But that's not what ... my point is it's difficult to see the violence, the ownership of public space, all of that.
VIRGINIA: So, the reenactments depend on your interpretation of the moment. But how much are you creating the moment rather than reflecting it?
CHARLES: That's what all great art grapples with.
CHARLOTTE: Any moment can be made ordinary, but when you're in the moment you know precisely what's happening.
VIRGINIA: Just the other day a beautiful woman held the door open for me and a line of white men just flooded through. I wondered why she didn't just let it slam in their faces. You could have definitely taken a picture of that, Charlotte.
CHARLOTTE: By beautiful do you mean black?
VIRGINIA: She was black but she was beautiful.
(Alex enters the room.)
CHARLES: You're finally here.
ALEX: This was as soon as I could get here.
CHARLES: We want to hear about the rally ...
CHARLES: Protest, but let's start you off with a glass of champagne.
Excerpted from "The White Card"
Copyright © 2019 Claudia Rankine.
Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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