[REVIEW] The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, by Ishmael Reed

A thin white book with a red stripe lies on a shiny gray formica table. The title is The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author is Ishmael Reed. There is a goblet of amber beer and a glass of water nearby. A green exit sign is reflected in the table's shiny surface.

(Buy it at Bookshop.)

I loved Broadway’s Hamilton despite myself. The songs, the sincerity, the hammy hip-hop–it all got to me. I went in scoffing at the idea of Founding Father fan fiction and came out claiming George Washington as my new bae. I don’t hate the play, but I can see its problems just as clearly as I can hear its tunes.

You know who did hate the play, though? Toni Morrison. She hated it so much she helped fund Ishmael Reed’s low-budget critical counterpoint, which is formed around key historical and anti-colonial critiques of the Broadway show. The resulting Haunting is actually pretty kind to Hamilton. It’s even kinder to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who, as the main character in the play, finds himself haunted by the ghosts of enslaved Africans, displaced Indigenous people, and a pesky Ambien-wielding agent. The play is cheeky, self-aware, well-researched…and probably unbearably didactic in performance.

It doesn’t call Hamilton an outright bad show, because it isn’t. It does call it out for egregious ahistoricity, and calls Miranda in for being a sincerely bad researcher. It pokes fun at Hamilton’s cheesy rhymes while also admitting that Haunting’s playwright spent a mortgage payment on tickets to it. It provides a lot of historical context into who Hamilton, Schuyler, Jefferson et. al really were, and how badly they would have thought of–and treated–nearly every actor in the show that recontextualized their names. It does what good theater should often do — it provides perspective. Just because something taps into the zeitgeist perfectly doesn’t make it unquestionably good, even if there’s not much better out there.

Of course, just because a critique is perfectly poised doesn’t make it good either. I wouldn’t pay to see this play. It’s full of long preachy woke-coded monologues and while there are some clever lines, not a lot happens in the dialogue. Reading it is a nice thought exercise though, and a bit gratifying for those of us who never could love Hamilton with our whole hearts.

Four stars and ironic box seats for 1776 to The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

(Beautiful people! This is the part where I tell you that I’m glad you’re here, I hope you’re reading something good in a comfy fall location, and any clicks and purchases made from links on this site may result in a commission being paid. If you want to check out more diverse books for diverse readers, the Equal Opportunity Bookshop awaits. If you want to read more of my reviews of plays, click here. Whatever you do, enjoy it! Peace!)

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