Three different white people, from different places on the food chain, deliver an extended monologue to the audience, sharing their life story and (sometimes grueling) experiences with racism. Alan Harris (Jason Folks) is a professor at a university in New York City, Mara Lynn Dodson (Charissa Lee) is a housewife and homecoming queen who failed to complete her college education, and Martin Bahmueller (Jack O'Donnell) is an aggressive attorney imported from the East, to command a law firm in Arkansas. Playwright J.T. Rogers cuts back and forth between these three to keep things moving, White People plays somewhere around the customary 90 minutes with no intermission, and by the time we return to the lobby, we feel a bit clobbered. I don't mean this in a bad way. White People is carefully executed, modulated with wisdom and humor, building to legitimate and compelling, anecdotal climaxes. It is not a prolonged harangue or invective, which is key, considering the hot-button issues being raised.
Alan has one African American student in particular, a female student who is contentious, intelligent and vocal, who keeps him on his toes. Alan is keenly aware of the social climate of the city. He is a caring, sentient, reflective individual with a wife and baby on the way, who can see how smoldering rage and the caste system is causing a breakdown in culture and even fundamental propriety. None of the three characters interact, but all experience a harrowing incident, symptomatic of the unrest between white and black people, excruciating, if not impossible, to navigate. Martin enforces a particular dress code in the office he supervises, and some censorship when it comes to the incendiary and casually atrocious rap lyrics playing on the radios in certain departments.
Mara Lynn is a Southern gal with a blue collar husband, and infant boy with a seriously debilitating disease. A swarthy medical specialist of Indian extraction is “their best chance” she explains as she packs his small suitcase for the hospital. Mara Lynn's narrative is heartbreaking, even when she imagines rebuking the “minority” doctor who holds so much power in her boy's fate. Later in the monologue, she describes an incident in which her drunk husband demonstrates how little he actually respects her. Moments like this are shining examples of Rogers' ability to illuminate the complexity of humanity and its particularly disgraceful events. Mara Lynn clings to her self-respect (as we all must) only to have her own husband degrade and diminish her.
Churchmouse Productions' has shown great vision and courage in staging White People, a very unothodox and frank dialectic on the subject of volcanic, pervasive racial animosity that is barely contained, continuing to erupt and plague the community of man. It engages us in a genuine, often emotional, discussion of what it means to live in the world, achieving self-esteem without forfeiting the dignity of others. White People tries to get “the conversation” (as the current expression goes) moving without resorting to simplistic homilies or remedies. How does anybody recover from a hate crime without succumbing to the same poison? How do we fight the virulent mythology of dominance and submission? How do we rise above subliminal indoctrination? White People is profoundly unsettling, smart, compassionate, and hard medicine, and you should positively not miss it. Kudos to you, Churchmouse and J.T. Rogers.
Churchmouse Productions presents : White People playing May 8th-May 25th, 2014. Directed by Chad Cline. Bath House Cultural Center, 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218. 214-821-6005. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com/event/625783