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New York-based theatre creatives Elevator Repair Service re-creates this profoundly relevant debate verbatim for this work-in-progress performance.
In 1965 James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr. were invited to The Cambridge University Union to debate the resolution “The American Dream is at the Expense of The American Negro.” The result was a provocative and profoundly relevant confrontation between Baldwin, one of the most powerful figures of the civil rights movement, and Buckley, often considered the father of 20th Century patrician conservatism. Building on its history of staging unconventional texts, New York-based ensemble Elevator Repair Service (ERS) will present the debate verbatim in a special video preview of this new work. As a more intimate and personal counterpoint to the debate, the final scene features a brief, imagined reunion between Baldwin and his close friend and confidante Lorraine Hansberry, who died only weeks before the debate.
The piece was conceived in late 2019 by long-time ERS company member Greig Sargeant. In the many months since those early conversations, the subject of the debate has only become more urgent. With both 1965 and 2021 in mind, Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge – through a starkly simple design and an acting style that favors intimacy over impersonation – presents the debate as real, immediate, and of this moment.