“You got the Charlie Fever, Johnny. Tha’s what you got! I gave it to you!” – Sweets in No Place to be Somebody.
Michael Blaze video interview
“Stop the nonsense.”
A few of the sentiments Hawthorne James hopes an audience may offer after seeing the performance of the 1970 Pulitzer Prize winning play, No Place To Be Somebody written by Charles Gordone.
I recently interview Hawthorne about his impressions of No Place To Be Somebody and his role as Sweets.
Question: What made you say yes to portraying the character of Sweets in No Place To Be Somebody?
Hawthorne James: Ben called and asked if I’d do it, and I like the play.
Question: A variety of sensitive topics and subject matter are covered in this play, in your opinion, are these issues still relevant today?
Hawthorne James: The play is still very relevant today. There is so much going on [in the world of the play]. And to see these people struggling like this, for no reason, [for the characters in this play] not to achieve a goal without being negative, without hurting. It is still hurtful for a people to have to struggle this hard just to make something, and to be led down the wrong path and allowed to be led down the wrong path. And then when you try redemption, your life is over.
Question: What words or phrases would you use to describe this play?
Hawthorne James: Insightful. Disheartening. Hurtful.
“Givin’ you a education or teachin’ you to dinner-pail, didn’t seem to me no way for you to grow up an’ be respected like a man.” – Sweets, No Place To Be Somebody.
Question: Given all the things that seem to plague these characters or how things seem stacked against them in No Place To Be Somebody, what kind of things could be offered, present day, as a solution to address the needs of a community similar to the one in the world of this play?
Hawthorne James: Education. That is so key. Not necessarily the “dinner-pail,” because I always tell people go to school and try to open your own business because we are all only one pay check away from homelessness. But education is key, not so much book learning. For me it’s teaching you to think, school should teach you to think independently, and that’s the key to education. It is learning how to use that muscle called the brain.
Question: In your opinion, what kind of education would you say the character Gabe has?
Hawthorne: I don’t recall [the character of Gabe] saying that he was formally educated. But he has some kind of education. He’s a learn-it man. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean book education. He’s a very smart person and could do a lot of things. He’s an artist and because of his skin color, he has been denied. And we still have that whole skin color thing. Even the gradation of color within our own [community]. That deep seated hate of ones self is still within our whole system and our whole body of being.
Question: Would you say most of the characters in No Place To Be Somebody, have that deep seated hate?
Hawthorne James: Yes. And it starts with self. If you can’t like yourself, you can’t like anybody else.
Question: This year marks the 25th Anniversary of The Five Heartbeats, certainly a favorite movie of many people. You played the character of Red in the movie The Five Heartbeats, and with a character like Red and a character like Sweets, it feels like audiences are almost endeared to them. What makes audiences titillated by characters with questionable scruples?
Hawthorne James: Because they are powerful people, they [Red and Sweets] are powerful men.
Question: In your opinion as it relates to the world of the play, what is Charlie Fever?
Hawthorne James: Something very destructive to your soul and your being. It is the seeking of trying to be like white people, and using all the negative aspects of it, because you can’t use the positive aspects of it and survive and still feel like a man, that’s what Sweets says.
“Couldn’t copy Charlie’s good points an’ live like men! So we copied his bad points. That was the way it was with my daddy an’ his daddy before him. We pissed away our lives tryin’ to be like bad Charlie. With all our fine clothes an’ big cars. All it did was make us hate him all the more an’ ourselves too. Then I tried to go horse-to-horse with ’em up there in the Bronx. An’ ended with a ten! All because’a the Charlie Fever. I gave you the Charlie fever, Johnny. An’ I’m sorry. Seems to me, the worse sickness’a man kin have, is the Charlie Fever.” -Sweets from No Place To Be Somebody.
Hawthorne James: [My opinion, in the world of the play] Johnny has the world at his finger tips, because Sweets gives [Johnny ownership] in businesses, and yet, that doesn’t satisfy [Johnny’s] soul. That’s fascinating to me. That here you are, you can own so much, and yet you’re so unhappy. That charlie Fever [was] so ingrained into [Johnny’s] brain since [childhood]. And that’s the thing about it, children are so vulnerable, and when you become an adult [what was ingrained] never leaves. I went to Catholic School all my life, from kindergarten through college. Some of things that the nuns said to me, are still troubling within me to this day. I totally rejected some things, but they were ingrained in me. And I can’t get rid of some of that nagging feeling, even though intellectually I’ve totally negated those things. A thing like saying it is a sin to be cremated, [I question] how can that be? But spiritually it’s still within me and still there’s a division because as children we were indoctrinated to believe [a certain way]. We have to get to the children early, right away, from the time they can see, from the time you find out a woman is pregnant, talk to the child. I think that makes a lot of difference. Just take Chicago for instance, in this day and age, they are closing schools at a point when these children need schools more than ever. Now what do you expect these children to do? In No Place To Be Somebody the character of Cora, she can’t tell time, how do you expect her to be? What happens when you give children no structure [or education]? This is why I say this play is still relevant today.
“Know Sump’m Gabe? I ain’t never learned how to tell time. Thirty years ol’ an’ I don’t know the time’a day. But when I gits up in the mornin’, tha’s the firs’ thing I’m gon’ do. I’m gonna learn how to tell me some time.” – Cora, No Place To Be Somebody.
Hawthorne James holds a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts from Notre Dame University, and a Masters in Theatre Arts from the University of Michigan. He study at the London Shakespeare Academy, and for a time while working at Tri-Star Pictures Hawthorne James was among one of the highest ranking Black executives in Hollywood.
You can connect with Hawthorne James through Facebook: http://Hawthorne James | Facebook
Hawthorne James rejoins the cast as Sweets for the final weekend of performances for No Place To Be Somebody produced by the Robey Theatre Company, directed by Ben Guillory.