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The Paradise Circus; misers and magic realism

Rawlings, patriarch and central character of The Paradise Circus, is known throughout town as a miserable miser. He mourns the death of his war-hero son Rainforth; whilst decrying the stupidity and general uselessness of his younger sons Gregory and Joel.

It would be easy to dislike and dismiss Rawlings…

The Paradise Circus
The Paradise Circus misers and magic realism

…But, as the play unfolds it becomes clear that Rawlings; unable to deal with grief, has encased himself in a sarcophagus of sorrow. Immune to joy and love he makes a terrible trade. Set against a tense backdrop of harsh realism Purdy’s The Paradise Circus magically lights up and elevates us towards a visiting circus, only to plunge us into the dark world of local witch Alda.

The Paradise Circus will transport you to Purdy’s world of ‘magic realism’, wrench your heart out, slap you back down to earth; and leave you wanting to hug a loved one, or at the very least say the words: ‘I love you.’

About James Purdy

Born on 17 July in 1914 in Hicksville, Ohio Purdy uses the voice of small-town America to tell intriguing tales of human hardship. His family were strict Calvinists meaning that they read the bible daily and had to memorise large parts of it. Purdy credits this with his knowledge and love of the English language. He identified with marginalized groups and began writing about small-town American lives at the age of nine. An outsider himself, Purdy’s great-grandmother was Native American – Ojibway Indian. When his mother and father divorced this compounded Purdy’s fringe position in the local community. Though better known for his short stories, novels and poetry Purdy’s gritty plays explore poverty, neglect, stigma and Twentieth Century social ills including slavery.

Purdy’s exceptional style of ‘magical realism’ in literature evolved when he was at Chicago University in the 1930s. He met Gertrude Abercrombie, a surrealist painter who was known as ‘the Queen of the Bohemian Artists’. Abercrombie hosted a creative hub where fellow artists and many renowned African American jazz musicians would meet and play music. Purdy witnessed the birth of a Chicago jazz movement – [the] ‘New Negro Renaissance’ where music was created from highly improvised bebop and jazz. At the same time Abercrombie was creating distinctive art with her particular style of surrealist painting.

His meetings with figures such as Billie Holiday, and friendships with magic realist painters such as Ivan Albright cemented his application of ‘magic realism’ to literature.

In praise of Purdy

Purdy has been praised by writers such as Dame Edith Sitwell, Terry Southern and Jonathan Franzen who said of him: ‘[he is] one of the most undervalued and under-read writers in America’. He was a recipient of the Morton Dauwen Zabel Fiction Award, he was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, he won two Guggenheim Fellowships and grants from the Ford and from the Rockerfeller Foundations. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages.

How to book tickets for The Paradise Circus

We at the Playground Theatre are delighted to be producing a world premiere of The Paradise Circus by American cult playwright James Purdy.

The Paradise Circus is to be directed by Anthony Biggs and produced by Amanda Waggott; it will run from 8 October to 3 November.

Check What’s On at The Playground Theatre now

References and further reading:

The James Purdy organization

Abercrombie surrealism

James Purdy Wikipedia

James Purdy an American Playwright – Cuny Academic Commons

James Purdy, a Fabulist Haunting the Fringes – New York Times