If you've spent time on a college campus recently, "White Guy on the Bus" may come as a refreshing dose of political incorrectness. If you're not open to hearing brutally honest, even incendiary language on the subject of race, however, this drama may feel like a slap in the face.
In its regional premiere at Curious Theatre — only the third theater in the country to produce the play — "White Guy on the Bus" throws political correctness under the bus. The play is packed with what might ordinarily be described as hate speech. But it's hateful in service to a broader understanding. Directed by Chip Walton on a multi-tiered set designed by Michael R. Duran, Bruce Graham's topical play is intentionally, actively unsettling.
* * * drama
Playwright Graham ("Coyote On A Fence") sets up an intricate study of race and white privilege in modern America, asking the audience to parse clever time shifts and a voice from beyond the grave.
White privilege is present first as a remote concept, then as a very specific thing. The idea reverberates in the presentation of a white couple, looking out over their swimming pool in the suburbs, and that of a black woman in the city taking the bus to visit her brother in prison.
The white couple, Ray (Sam Gregory) and Roz (Dee Covington), wonder why there's always a "new Thai place" or a "new Mexican place," but never a "new American place" downtown? She works with underprivileged kids at an urban school where the teachers hustle to get out of the 'hood by nightfall.Advertisement
The black woman on the bus, Shatique (Jada Suzanne Dixon) wonders why a business-suited white man is even using public transportation.
Ray's son Christopher (Andy Waldschmidt) is doing his dissertation on male African-American images in TV advertising, exploring why Madison Avenue insists they be positive, non-threatening images?
And Christopher's wife, Molly (Rachel Bouchard), is a teacher at an upscale (read: white) "academy" where the neurotic kids are more likely to cut on themselves than to brandish knives at each other. Molly loves the excitement of living in the city and would never consider moving to the 'burbs — until she becomes pregnant and consumed with worry about her future child's safety.
The characters alternately skirt racially-charged topics in polite conversation over white wine, or blast through them in emotional rants.
"There you go with that race thing again," Ray says during a bus-ride discussion of the death penalty with Shatique.
"When's the last time you saw a rich white man on death row?" Shatique retorts.
"Well, it helps that we don't murder as many people."
"No," she says. "You pay to have someone do it for you."
The acting is accomplished — Gregory, Covington and Dixon are pros — and, once opening night jitters are ironed out, the rapid-fire dialog should keep things moving.
There are hateful moments, a brutal twist and awkward laughter in "White Guy," along with some bits that may sound uncomfortably familiar. The goal is to send us out into the street arguing.
"Do you have to bring race into everything!?" Ray yells at Shatique.
Obviously, in America in 2016, if you are participating in the most important, divisive and excruciating national conversation, the answer is yes.
Joanne Ostrow: 303-954-1830, [email protected] or @ostrowdp
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