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Cal Performances

“Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge,” Elevator Repair Service

March 1–3, 2024
Zellerbach Playhouse

Courtesy of artist

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965, the progressive queer Black writer and activist James Baldwin met the “Father of American Conservatism” William F. Buckley, Jr., onstage at the Cambridge University Union to debate the resolution “The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro.” This confrontation is dramatized in a lean and elegant new production by Elevator Repair Service, a New York troupe that specializes in adaptations of literary and historic texts. Greig Sargeant portrays Baldwin as a verbal virtuoso, his vocal cadence soaring from operatic to hypnotic, infuriated to heartbroken. Buckley, played by Ben Jalosa Williams, bristles at Baldwin’s discussion of white supremacy, his reactionary stance providing a chilling counterpoint to the poet’s impassioned assertions. “Sargeant…is magnetic throughout. You cannot look away from him; you sense he is giving the performance of his life” (The New Yorker).