Don't drink the Kool-Aid

I have had two reviews that every playwright should cherish. One told me to burn my script, the othe

Last weekend I thought about ditching my idea of starting a support group for the handful of us of American birth and African descent who do not support Barack Obama for president of the United States. I was going to start, instead, "Sceptics for Obama" in an attempt to convince other hold-outs that it was time to rally around in order to watch the brother's back since there are so few black people at his top table. But I'm back to my original idea after the Illinois Democrat's no-show at a major television debate recently on the state of African America. Everybody from Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton was there. I guess Barack was too busy. Anyway, Hillary was the only presidential candidate to make the trip to New Orleans and face the music.

That leads me to two expressions, one general and one very inside, that you may or may not hear this election season. First "Kumbaya" or "Kumbaya moment". "Kumbaya" is the name of a popular African or faux-African folk song, sung while swaying and holding hands around a campfire accompanied by a gentle guitar. It means, in the immortal words of Rodney King in the wake of the LA riots in the Nineties: "Can't we all get along?" For example, Hillary and Barack had a Kumbaya moment after their last debate when they smiled and shook hands.

The other expression is "Don't drink the Kool-Aid", shortened to "Kool-Aid". If you're black and a Clinton supporter, or worse, black and neutral, or even indifferent, black Obamaramas urge you to stop "drinking the Kool-Aid", or simply refer to you as "Kool-Aid". This is a reference to the soft drink laced with poison administered by the mad Reverend Jim Jones to his compliant, and largely black, congregation in the Guyanese jungle in 1978, a tragedy known as the Jonestown Massacre.

Critical comeback

What do you say about people who never read their reviews? I figure that if you put the work out there, expect reaction. When I was doing Newsnight Review the word would often come back that so-and-so hated me because I said something negative about their opus on TV.

Come on. Critics are the public too, and any "creative" who can't take it should just do stuff for family and friends in the privacy of their ateliers. I've read all of the reviews so far of my new play, Marilyn and Ella, on in London, and will continue to do so. What I've learned are two things: that Marilyn and Ella are clearly mirrors for the critics as well as the audience; and you bring your own dream/idea of them to the show.

While the majority of our reviews have been three- and four-star, I have had two reviews that every playwright should cherish. One told me to burn my script and begged the heavens to give our glorious Marilyn, Wendy Morgan, something more worthy of her talents; the other urged the management to chuck the script and allow the magnificent Nicola Hughes full rein to deliver her Ella numbers unencumbered. Of course, these are the ones I will always cherish. They are already in the process of being framed, and I will display them to one and all.

High school days

I stepped over a girl in Oxford Street the other night. I was tempted to help her up, when I realised she was pissed. OK - I'm one to talk. My mother chased me down the street nightly during my high school days in the late Sixties for going out without a bra, dressed in a short skirt and coatless in the Arctic Chicago winter. I stayed away from home for days on end at a time when if you were gone, you were gone; there was no internet, no mobiles. I didn't drink or do drugs - thankfully, I'm allergic to drugs - but the whole thing must have looked really bad to my elders. I left the girl in the gutter. I just hope that I haven't hardened myself to the extent that I can't tell when somebody really needs help. I hope that I never have to find out.

A British Obama

So the word is out that the BBC wants to do a reality show to find a British Obama. Why does the Beeb, bless it, often come up with programme ideas that are the equivalent of your dad dancing at your wedding? This one is definitely Kool-Aid.

"Marilyn and Ella" is at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, London E15, until 15 March

Bonnie Greer is a playwright, author, and the Chancellor of Kingston University.

This article first appeared in the 03 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Gas gangsters