Saturday, November 25, 2006


I thought this show was, in general, a smart and daring attempt by a young, not-entirely-polished, playwright to 'deconstruct' race in America today, especially as defined and refracted through the funhouse mirrors of the media. Performances were crisp and compelling throughout. No false steps by the actors ever took me out of the story. The show is NOT pitch perfect. A few apparent anachronisms (e.g., I don't think "whitey" is a currently used epithet, but I could be wrong) and some confusion about current cultural lines muddy the theme, more than once. But, all in all, MUTT found a way to talk smart about race in ways we avoid.

Which brings up an interesting moment. At intermission, a young black woman sitting in my row clearly and loudly proclaimed how uncomfortable this show made her, surrounded as she was by white people in the audience, whom she took to be laughing at jokes that she thought they were taking literally, as good information about what it means to be black. She felt sure the playwright was shooting too far "over the audience's head," and that the audience just couldn't handle irony. I wasn't so sure, (though in general, I'm not one to over-estimate audiences' intelligence). Certainly, I felt capable of following the irony, though she was quite unhappy that I'd been "laughing my ass off," apparently clueless, during the first act.

Funny how I felt more constrained in my laughter during the second act, unsure if this censorious, self-important theater goer--who, by the way, was playing the race card herself, with disturbing agility--would deem me capable of 'getting it.' Whether she was right about me or not, I don't know. But, I don't think she does, either.

UPDATE (my posting to a comment on Followspot):

I felt [the woman in the audience] was "playing the race card" by sternly voicing a categorical assumption that the whites in the audience were'nt 'getting it,' an assumption she seemed clear about (she wasn't questioning her assumption, but asserting it.) She set herself up as an instant expert on race, relying heavily on the implied authority that came with being black in a mostly (but far from all) white audience.

But, on reconsideration, I can say that I find it easy to imagine being the only Jew in a group of non-Jews in a discussion of the middle east, and feeling threatened by the very conversation. In fact, when I went to see DIRTY STORY, I felt nervous and on the edge of anger just walking in the theater, unsure as I was the ability of a non-Jewish playwright to treat Israel with some degree of fairness. By intermission at DIRTY STORY, I'd found enough in the play to calm me down, but I can easily imagine having not found it--simply because I walked in defensively--even it was there.

So, perhaps my initial reaction to this woman's own, apparent defensiveness lacked empathy. Something for me to chew on.

[MUTT, produced by Many Hats Collaborations, directed by Kristan Seemal, written by Lava Alapal, performed by Lava Alapal, Yolanda Suarez, Jessica Wallenfels, Jane Fellos, Amelia Goodbla, Clara Hillier, AndreĆ  Harmon and Erin Shannon. IFCC Cultural Center.]

1 comment:

David Loftus said...

Interesting. Leaving aside the "race card" notion, I find it amusing and disturbing that this woman felt she had every right to try to spoil the show for nearly everyone else, midstream, so she exercised that careless bit of power. Mind you, the only aesthetic experiences I've had with tasteless or ethnically insensitive depictions of "where I live" were with films, so I couldn't quite do the same thing, but I don't think I would have, in any case. The correct course, it seems to me, is to leave quietly or to see the experience through to the end (you never know how the second half of the show will turn out), write a letter to the editor (or to followspot and pdxbackstage) afterward if you feel the same way, and/or talk to the creator(s) of the show. But this kind of passive/aggression that poisons other people's ability to enjoy the show (and perhaps even think about it critically; she turned the audience's focus back on themselves, rather than just the show) as it is unfolding, is, as I said, a careless misuse of power, I believe.