Mule Bone Critical Reception

Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life was written by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston in 1930. The two authors were great friends in their early 20s when they decided they wanted to accurately depict black life as it had not been portrayed before by white folk. At this time the only portrayal of black people was made up by white people in minstrel shows that included black face. This would also come to be one of the first play made by black people for black people, as black actors of this time were on big New York stages taking over jobs that were previously white characters in blackface. This was a big step for the authors and they knew it.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of miscommunication on both sides about publishing and credit being given properly, as both authors were in completely different areas in the U.S. while writing Mule Bone. Lost letters and long delays forced the authors to write their own acts and publish them separately, until Langston Hughes finally got his name on the same playbill as Hurston. The play was never really finished with a consensus from both authors as they had a falling out and were no longer friends and could not work together.

There are no actual reviews of this time that reflect on the play itself as it was not staged until February 1991. The reviews in the 1930s focused on the quality of the play script, as each author wrote different sections of the play and the flow was not very great. These reviews talked about how the idea was great but the execution could have been better. There were not necessarily good, yet they did not completely bash the play itself due to the authors being very distinguished. The play was staged in February of 1991 and only went on to be on stage until April of that same year, after only 68 performances. The New York Times put out two reviews for the play when it opened, neither one saying great things. It was “pleasant” but underwhelming to say the least. Everyone was pretty much in a consensus that the idea was great and would have been greater had the authors finished their collaboration and produced a great play. Instead it got bad reviews and last about 3 months on the stage, 60 years after it had first been written, and long after both authors had died. There has been no change of opinion over the years and there have not been that many reviews of Mule Bone itself that do not include the feuding of the authors, Hughes and Hurston.

Today, it is a forgotten play that could have stood as a turning point for black theater, but it fell short of expectations of everyone, seemingly including the authors themselves.


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