BWW Review: WHITE GUY ON THE BUS at Delaware Theatre Company
Robert Cuccioli (Ray) and Danielle Leneé (Shatique). Photo by Matt Urban - Mobius New Media
White privilege is an institutional (rather than personal) set of benefits granted to those of us who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions. Understanding White Privilege by Francis E. Kendall, Ph.D. (2002)
I am a white, 51 year old, educated, middle-class woman, with a good job, a home, a husband, a daughter, and a very comfortable life. The way I perceive racism differs from the perception of others, especially those of different races and social-economic levels. It's nice to say and think you are capable of walking in someone else's shoes, but can you truly do it? Can a White person completely comprehend and digest what it is to be a person of color, especially if that White person is one of means and power?
To me, Delaware Theatre Company's latest offering, WHITE GUY ON THE BUS, is not so much about race as it is about White Privilege. According to tolerance.org, "White skin privilege is not something that White people necessarily do, create or enjoy on purpose. White skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society. [I]t provides white people with 'perks' that we do not earn and that people of color do not enjoy." Looking at the audience base during the performance I attended, I'm not certain if many understand their privilege.
Ray, an influential, highly analytical investment advisor, and his wife, Roz, an unfiltered, straight-talking English teacher working in an inner-city public school, are happily working through the "struggles" of their very comfortable life, including what to do with their Main Line home, burgeoning investment portfolio and other personal assets in preparation for retirement. Roz, doesn't want to retire because she feels her work, which has been nationally recognized several times, is important to underprivileged students (even though the students call her "white bitch" more often than not). Her current project is tutoring an illiterate young man, with a totally disinterested parent, for the smallest of gains - to give him the ability to complete a job application.
Their younger counterparts are Christopher, Ray and Roz's semi-adopted son, who currently is developing his doctoral thesis on male African-American images in television advertising, and his wife, Molly, also a teacher, but in a well-to-do "academy" comprised mostly of whites. Molly eschews any thought of being racist due to living in center-city with its many different cultures. While sipping wine on the veranda, Molly and Roz debate over which of them works in a more stressful environment, the one where students are cutting themselves, or the one where students are cutting (stabbing) each other.
Then, there is Shatique. The Black single mother of a nine year old son and current nursing student, who rides the bus each Saturday to the prison to visit her brother. Shatique diligently cuts coupons, stresses over buying her son the newest fad sneakers, and prays for the day when she is able to have her son live with her instead of her mother.
The opening scene gracefully switches to Shatique on the bus. And, who do we see beside her, but Ray. Why is Ray riding the bus and befriending Shatique? Over the course of time shifting scenes (Paul Tate DePoo III - Scenic Design & Rob Denton - Lighting Design) between the veranda and the bus, Ray and Shatique strike up an acquaintance. But, why does Ray continue to ride the bus every Saturday? Shatique inquiries go unanswered until the major plot twist (of which I will not divulge) takes hold. Sadly, the story unfolds during Act Two like an episode from Law & Order.
Ray is deftly portrayed by Robert Cuccioli. He has the look, tone and demeanor of a "numbers guy" investment advisor. His analytical reasoning is cool, confident and assuring. His frustration in dealing with less than impressive co-workers and desire to "sell it all" plausible. His anger and vengeance are raw. Susan McKey (Roz) turns in a satisfying characterization of a cynical teacher stymied by a system yet unwilling to call it quits. Jonathan Silver (Christopher) and Jessica Bedford (Molly) are suitably cast with both offering believable characters. Danielle Leneé imparts an earnest, realistic personality to the character of Shatique. The audience can empathize (different from understanding or sympathizing) with her past struggles, her present deception and her future disquieting.
Playwright Bruce Graham (Any Given Monday, The Outgoing Tide) penned WHITE GUY ON THE BUS about two years ago, just ahead of all the political upheaval of the recent election. It was a 1988 paper by Peggy McIntosh entitled "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies," the term White Privilege was coined. Recently, the term has grown in size and shape. The cries of privilege are often in the news. There is even a BuzzFeed quiz called "How Privileged Are You?" Is the uncomfortable discussion generated by WHITE GUY ON THE BUS truly as simplistic as discussing the understanding of race?
I recommend and encourage theater patrons to see WHITE GUY ON THE BUS with an open-mind in the hope that diverse, uncomfortable discussions, not just about race but also about privilege, inequality, social injustice, and all that goes with today's societal ills, ensue to ignite deeper understanding, tolerance and acceptance.
WHITE GUY ON THE BUS
By Bruce Graham
Directed by Bud Martin
Delaware Theater Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801
Runs February 1 through February 19
Ticket Prices: $20 - $65