Not many authors can say they have a Pulitzer, a Pinter Prize, an Oscar or a Nobel. Even fewer can say they have been quoted by his majesty David Bowie himself in one of his songs. 1972: The Artist Formerly Known As Ziggy Stardust releases Jean Genie, single taken from the all-time-classic Aladdin Sane: the title clearly refers to Jean Genet, French playwright and novelist, who in the meantime was traveling through the Middle East as a journalist, managing to get an interview with Yasser Arafat in Jordan.
The rebel spirit of those incredible years, avoiding every definition but the genius one, the definition that transcends definitions… by definition. That’s the definition for both the words’ master from the suburbs of Paris and the Thin White Duke. Bowie earned that epithet from climbing the Olympus of the black music with his bare, pale hands. If music was a car, his said Brixton on the plate, but his passengers were Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder. While RCA tried to get the exclusive on the new hit of the Duke, Genet was a couple miles from there, invited in the USA by the Black Panthers as the reporter with the most lethal pen on the revolution side.
As Koltès, Genet stood with the last ones, without considering himself one despite the oppressions he suffered for his sexuality. In his work The Blacks, the French dramatist inverts the poles of Bowie’s game of masks and make-up: he asks the black actors, and at least one spectator if the whole audience is black, to do the whiteface. Cross-dressing has a main role in The Maids, a play about two girls the author wanted to be impersonated by young male boys.
With a little help from his troubled life, from the more than humble origins, the arrest for homosexuality, and the early death of the man he loved, Genet develops his sense of smell for the world’s bitterness. Cruelty lies in every corner of the world, through the deviated nature of men and the power structure of the society. The only way to display this is through theater in the theater: the characters have their own characters, the tool they use to sadistically impose themselves over the weaker ones. Homosexuality, outstandingly for a gay author, is one of the many means to mask a vision of love solely made of hate and domination.
Thinking about Bowie’s dresses, made of plumes and sparks, before the only coming out as a straight man the history remembers, the ghosts of the two artists seem to merge. Parallel destinies escaping from social, demographical, and sexual identities, who as every parallel line finally met: the Duke dies at 69, Genet at 75, still with the punk attitude of those who are young eternally, always siding with the good. So, here’s the ninth challenge for the Carlo Annoni Prize’s participants: imagine your play as it was music. How would you like it to sound?