‘Waiting for Giovanni,’ a Play About James Baldwin, Opens in NYC

Jewelle Gomez (Photo via Gay City News)

“Waiting for Giovanni,” a play about the writer James Baldwin as he writes the novel “Giovanni’s Room,” is being revived by The Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan, opening on July 17 (previews begin July 12). Kathleen Warnock of Gay City News talked with the playwright, San Francisco resident Jewelle Gomez, about the work and her inspiration, which came from talking with co-author Harry Waters, Jr.

“Waiting for Giovanni” is directed by Mark Finley, and presented by TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), New York City’s oldest professional LGBTQ theater. It premiered in San Francisco in 2011.

“I’m very excited to see how the play stands out in the world on its own and how another director is able to shape it with his vision,” Gomez said.

“Baldwin is enjoying a rediscovery at the moment,” director Finley noted. “Not only, I think, because of his work’s eloquence but because of its stark relevance 50 years later.

“The thing I’m looking for most is a radical reinterpretation of the work,” Gomez said.

“Waiting for Giovanni” began as a monologue and led to a long-term project for Gomez, who is in the midst of writing a trilogy about the lives of queer artists of color at a specific time in the 20th century.

“Giovanni” began when Waters (an actor and director who played the role of Belize in the original production of “Angels in America”), said to Gomez, “Write me something about James Baldwin.”

The Flea Theater has the following description of the play on its website:

It’s 1957. Bombs are exploding in Black churches and lynchings are a fact of life for many across the U.S.  From these ashes a young Black writer emerges to become a literary celebrity bringing with him both his boundless talent and personal insecurities.  “Waiting for Giovanni,” a new play by Jewelle Gomez, in collaboration with Harry Waters Jr., imagines a moment in the mind of James Baldwin in which he struggles with writing a novel that he’s been told will ruin his career.

Go to Gay City News to learn how Gomez found her way into the play, and what she learned about Baldwin from one of his editors. Tickets for the show, running through Aug. 4, are available at The Flea Theater.

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