BWW Interviews: Black Lab Theatre's Cast of THE SUBMISSION Talks Race, Sexuality, Civil Rights, and Language
As temperatures dropped on January 2, 2013, I sat down with Jordan Jaffe, Ross Bautsch, Matt Benton, Candice D'Meza, and Darcy Cadman to discuss Black Lab Theatre's upcoming production of Jeff Talbot's controversial and comedic drama, THE SUBMISSION. The Off-Broadway gem took New York City by storm when it opened in September 2012. Jordan Jaffe and his talented, intellectual, and young Houston cast are ready to affect Houston audiences in many of the same ways that the New York production affected its audiences. Prior to a rehearsal, I met with Jordan Jaffe and his cast at Frenetic Theatre on Navigation. The venue is known for not having central air or heat, so we huddled close together and relied on keen, intellectual observations about the play, race, sexuality, civil rights, and language to keep us warm.
Me: How did you decide to produce THE SUBMISSION?
Jordan Jaffe: I saw the play when I was in New York last fall. I left the theatre, and I just thought to myself, "I'm going to do this play." I just loved it. I thought it would really be a great play to do here. So, it was just love at first sight. I knew I was going to do it.
Me: In your own words, what is THE SUBMISSION about?
[The cast looks around at each other. Candice D'Meza laughs.]
Ross Bautsch: Well, at its base, it's about a guy who writes a play. He puts a ghost name on it. He thinks it's going to help it get produced. It's about a Black family trying to escape the projects. He puts it on. He hires Emilie [played by Canice D'Meza] to be his stand-in. And, basically, the pit falls of that. What ends up happening with that is all these crazy problems start arising, and all these questions about race and gender politics are kind of brought up and they all bubble forth. So, it's about how these characters deal with that and what they discover along the way.
Matt Benton: I think THE SUBMISSION is a story about stories; who's story holds more weight in their own eyes and in the other person's eyes. It's about conflicts of interest. I think there's a lot of pride in THE SUBMISSION too.
Candice D'Meza: For me, personally, I think it's about all of the unchecked biases that we have that we don't really realize in this Obama America. I think especially-what are we Generation X? [Jordan Jaffe nods yes.] Generation X and Y, we tend to think that we're so much more open than our parents and grandparents, and haven't realized there's still a long way to go.
Darcy Cadman: And, I would finish by saying that it's somewhat about need. Sort of, need versus...[Pauses]...want, and kind of how those play up against each other. What's seemingly needed or what's wanted just for one's self in some ways.
Jordan Jaffe: I also like this particular play for Houston in that we have one of the strongest gay communities in the country. I think this play brings to light a lot of issues between two communities, the gay community and the African-American community, that we might not think about necessarily, unless it's kind of brought to our attention. But there are some pretty deep tensions there within these kind of two civil rights movements, especially when you think about what's going on with gay marriage now. There's just a lot of tension all around.
Me: On a personal level, how does THE SUBMISSION speak to you? What does it mean to you?
Candice D'Meza: That's pretty complicated. I think...[Pauses]...it...[Pauses]. As a Black woman, and I have a lot of friends and relatives that are a part of the gay community as well, I think it puts me-it's like an interesting juxtaposition for me to be part of two communities, and some pockets of these communities are at odds with each other. That is highlighted in the play, but, for me, personally, it's nice to do something that kind of increases awareness because that's where I live. You know, the two communities are mixed. My sister is a Black, gay woman. So, I think it's important to highlight the positive relationship between the two communities. I'm glad to be a part of something that's really going to leave the audience with a lot to consider on both ends-racially, as far as gender, and as far as sexuality. So, I'm very proud to be a part of it. I really support the overall message.
Ross Bautsch: Yeah, I can't top that. [We all laugh] I mean, you know, it's just a fun piece to be a part of because, well, it's controversial, for one. It's got a lot of energy. I find, for me, it still surprises me along the way. With this process we've been going through, we've run it so many times now, but each and every time we run it, there's something new that just kind of pops up and hits me in the face. So exploring the questions that the play brings up for myself is kind of a huge thing, as well. And just to kind of see where that takes me and also our cast.
Darcy Cadman: I think, I mean, it's really cool it's a new work. It's relevant to a lot of things that are still sort of questions pulsating through society. I think that it's also very cool to work on a play that touches so clearly on the theatre world. You know, as actors, it sort of feels like we're working on a piece that is in some ways hard to understand but, in some ways, kind of close to our own experience.
Me: I'm not wholly familiar with THE SUBMISSION. From reviews I read of the New York production, it seems that these characters could easily become stereotyped or caricatures. So, how are you preparing for these roles?
Jordan Jaffe: Well, I think, from the very beginning, one of the things that I definitely wanted to try and do with the casting process was to make sure that we didn't play into anything. And with the amazing team that we have, we really don't. All of the characters are really, really grounded, and, therefore, I think they're really relatable. They've all done a phenomenal job of not really falling into any type of stereotypes. People will really enjoy and appreciate that when they come and see it.
Ross Bautsch: [From somewhere else within the building, music begins playing, providing a beautiful, haunting underscore for the next few minutes] Absolutely, and these people we are portraying on stage are, for a lot of us, very close to who we are. They're actors or playwrights. They're living in this world that we've all been a part of, so it's easy to relate to them. They don't have to become caricatures or stereotypes. I think it's just these people are very close to who we are on a day to day. So, we've done a good job of avoiding that, I think.
Matt Benton: I spoke with Jordan [Jaffe] yesterday, and like when we first started this. It's interesting actually because I really didn't-I really, really wanted to make sure, coming off-I'm a straight guy, but I just finished a play where I played a gay man, and now I was playing another gay man-I wanted to make sure both that it was different and it didn't play into any cliché tones of being overly flamboyant. And [I'm] trying hard not to do that, not going there, making sure that my character was real and tangible and also cared and loved for his partner unconditionally. So, I think, as long as that comes across then I feel like I've done my job. [Pauses]And everyone's just solid. Very unique characterization across the board, I think.
Jordan Jaffe: And there's great chemistry all around the board, with all the different relationships and how everyone ties into each other thought the play. It's really neat.
Me: Jeff Talbot does not shy away from the use of slurs in his dialogue. Artistically, how does his use of this language impact the show?
Jordan Jaffe: I think he goes to places that are uncomfortable for not only us who are working on this project but for everyone who is going to come into the theatre and watch the show. What I remind myself and I remind the company is that, as far as what we're working on, we're going to these places to explore these kind of darker places with meaning and language so that the audience can take away something from it. I think that the audience will enjoy that we go here. Not only, I think the play is very entertaining, but also they'll be able to take away something about the power of language, these words, and how it impacts our society and what not.
Candice D'Meza: I think it's interesting that the play itself includes some slurs that are offensive to many, many different communities, and then inside the play we dialogue about that very thing. And, so, it's like a box within a box. I think it will be interesting for the audience to decide for themselves how we use the terms and then decide for themselves on what side of the argument or where they put themselves in between the characters and their own perspective about the use of the words as well. That's going to be exciting.
Darcy Cadman: I think that the language of the play is very interesting. I mean, it's-obviously, there are the words that get said that are hurtful. But just the way that the characters speak is very current. It was interesting. I mean, I knew about THE SUBMISISON. I knew his [Jeff Talbot's] name, but I didn't know all that much about him as a person. To find out that he has written a play that has these 27-year-olds in it, and he himself is a little bit older than that, you know, I mean, it's speaking to the fact in the direction we're taking language now. It feels very much like the words that are being said. It doesn't feel like we are putting on any kind of language that isn't around. We are speaking in terms, I think, that are very commonplace to the way language is now.
Me: Race is perhaps the largest hurdle in the show. In your opinion, why is race still such a prominent issue in American society?
Jordan Jaffe: I think as a society, and as a country, we still have those divisions of racial lines and it's partly just how we identify ourselves. It's a part of who we are, and obviously it's what makes our country great, but at the same time people...[Pauses]
Ross Bautsch: And, if I could just add something.
Jordan Jaffe: Yeah.
Ross Bautsch: It's also a country that we, especially maybe our generation, we think that we're very forward thinking and that we're all moving towards this place where it doesn't exist anymore. But what this play suggests is that maybe, actually, these things that we imagine aren't there anymore actually are. So, it's important because we're not finished with those issues yet. We still need to talk about them, we still need to deal with them, we still need to figure out how to have conversations to make them better, whether it be with race or homophobia, or any of those important issues. We have come a long way, but there's still so much that could be improved upon.
Candice D'Meza: I think that...[Pauses]. Race is a big issue. I think many of us have not fully integrated that race actually does not exist, and it's a social concept. So, we divide ourselves based on the outward things that we can see because it's our easiest way to organize our world. That's just kind of a common human trait. We want to organize things into simple categories, so we can move on to other tasks. But race in America is one of the foremost divisions this country was based on. I think it's just commonplace for us to fall in line with what is traditional with society because it takes so much effort to reorganize in your mind a new way to look at people and yourself, and I think our generation is doing that, you know, as time goes on. But I think that's why it's a big deal because we really haven't, all of us, taken the time to really go back and check a lot of things we really think.
Matt Benton: It's interesting because on one hand I want to say it's still prevalent because we keep talking about it, you know. And if it's brought up, it's going to be an issue. But then again, the other side of me says, "We shouldn't sweep it under the rug." I mean, it's a dialogue every needs to have; everyone needs to figure it out for themselves. And so how our generation examines and dissects the topic of racial divides is a good thing, ultimately. And everyone has to kind of figure that out individually for themselves and as a collective.
Jordan Jaffe: Yeah, I think that we'll get there. I just think that every little bit of awareness helps. You know, if you can kind of be aware of something and aware of the division, then we can all work together to break it down, right.
Me: This is something that you guys have already alluded to, but THE SUBMISSION also seems to be tackling sexuality. What does Jeff Talbot or THE SUBMISSION bring to the table in this area?
[As if one cue Britney Spears' "If You Seek Amy" begins playing from within the building.]
Matt Benton: Well, sexuality in terms of preference or sexuality in general?
Me: I was kind of thinking along the civil rights line of it...
Matt Benton: Because this is a hot play, and there's a lot of good sex in it too. [Everyone laughs] Just to put that out there. [Candice D'Meza laughs again.]
Jordan Jaffe: I think that [Pauses]
Me: Of course we've got Britney [Spears] in the background.
Jordan Jaffe: Yeah.
Me: That's kind of perfect timing.
Darcy Cadman: You were saying, dude.
Jordan Jaffe: If you look across the country, you see things in different states and in how people feel differently about homosexuality. There's just so many varied opinions or personal feelings about all kinds of issues relating to that community. [Pauses] Hold on. [Pauses] Ok, so he, Jeff [Talbot], addresses those various opinions. You know, there's a line that I'm reminded of within the play where Emilie is arguing with Danny and she says, "Well, being gay isn't who you are; it's just who you sleep with." You know, there's all kinds of opinions about, well I mean, people believe all sorts of things. But, at the end of the day, until we all kind of get on the same page and accept people just for who they are, you know, we're just going to keep drawing lines in the sand, I guess. I think that's how-he brings to light those various issues and all the different kind of beliefs that people might have about sexuality and identity specifically. So one of the great things he does in this play is kind of bring it all to the forefront, into light, so we can ponder our own beliefs and think about where we are and what we really think.
Darcy Cadman: I think it's interesting, I mean, dealing with a play that, you know, [Pauses] touches upon the arts and the arts community. The fact that both race and sexuality are examined in such a way here that's it kind of like there's almost the idea that there'll be a given that people's positions on race and sexuality will be uniform because of the arts community usually being pretty liberal and pretty forward thinking. I think that one of the things that comes up is kind of almost turning that around and questioning whether or not it's that easy to sort of assign that thought to that idea and whether or not race and sexuality are two things that, perhaps, even to this day are still complicated and still require some sort of thought and negotiation. They're not quite as clear cut as we might like to believe and think that they are.
Me: In a way, we've kind of talked around this already, but I want to narrow it down some. So, art is often at the political and philosophical forefront, tackling issues such as civil rights problems in ways that audience members can relate to and understand them. So, what message do you think the audience will get from THE SUBMISSION?
Jordan Jaffe: I think that, just first and foremost, it will just kind of bring to the forefront these issues that maybe people weren't necessarily either aware of or wasn't in the forefront of their mind. But I think what's also really fun about this play is that it does it within the context of theatre. So, that's another really fun thing about it. It's definitely a great play for theatre lovers.
Candice D'Meza: I think that it will be variable depending on what people are bringing in with them. People are going to leave talking. I wish I could hear what they're saying. But they're going to be talking. They're going to have something to say. The nature of it is such that they're going to have to discuss it. It's going to be too uncomfortable not to. And because of the way that the play's written it's not so over-the-top. You know, we're not dealing with race in the slavery context or 60s movement or dealing with the tragic homosexual narrative. It's current enough that it won't be too far away from life. So, I think...[Pauses]. I don't know what message people will pull, but it'll depend on-well, their mileage may vary, I guess.
Jordan Jaffe: You know it's very interesting to think about Houston as a very, very liberal city with a very prominent African-American community and a very prominent gay community. We're one of these melting pots, but then we're also smack dab in the middle of Texas, one of the most conservative states in the country. It's just whoever walks in that door might just take something different from this play. It'll be a unique personal experience for probably everyone who comes in.
Darcy Cadman: Hopefully it'll make for interesting conversation when someone asks, "What did you think of the play?"
Me: Getting off the heavy stuff now, while THE SUBMISSION treads tumultuous political and sociological waters, what else can audiences expect from this modern and celebrated comedy?
Jordan Jaffe: I'd say, just first and foremost, it's very entertaining, and it's a very engaging play. It's very quick. You know, no intermission, an hour-and-a-half. We'll get you in and out, and you'll enjoy it. There's some really funny moments. There's some very dramatic moments. I love the genre of the dramedy because it has everything. I think it's just a very entertaining show.
Candice D'Meza: It's fun. It's a fun cast. People are just going to enjoy it. There's a brief allusion to some phone sex. You know, that's always interesting. [Several people laugh.] There's a nude scene. No, I'm just kidding. But if it brings you, there's a nude scene! It's fun. It'll be a lot of fun.
Jordan Jaffe: Or even, what's it? Sexting?
Cadice D'Meza: SEXTING!
Jordan Jaffe: Sexting is even addressed briefly.
Candice D'Meza: Sexting is awesome!
Jordan Jaffe: That's how current it is.
Matt Benton: But people can definitely expect to get their Black Lab Theatre experience. I mean, it's very relevant, quick, good to follow but not talking down to you plays that are fun. They're events that you look forward to come out and see every year. I think Jordan [Jaffe] has done a good job of that, really bringing good, exciting theatre to Houston that's not a big to-do and that doesn't require a massive press kit. People are going to be here.
Me: In your opinion, what is the number one reason for seeing this production of THE SUBMISSION?
Jordan Jaffe: Because these guys rock! The number one reason, it's a great go grab a nice dinner, come to our show, and then you can go out afterwards. It's a...
Ross Bautsch: Like, if you're tired of the fluff of the holidays...
Jordan Jaffe: Yeah
Ross Bautsch:...come out and check out a real piece of theatre.
Jordan Jaffe: Yeah.
Candice D'Meza: And we say the F word a lot. [Several people laugh] That's a lot of fun.
Ross Bautsch: That's right.
Candice D'Meza: Yeah, who doesn't love the F word? Gratuitous use of the F word. Come and see it. [Laughs]
Darcy Cadman: It's a new play. A hot cast. It's...[Pauses]...everything the theatre should be, I think.
Candice D'Meza: Attractive people using the F word.
Black Lab Theatre's production of Jeff Talbot's entertaining and thought provoking THE SUBMISSION will run from January 11 to January 27, 2013 at Frenetic Theatre (5102 Navigation Boulevard, Houston, Texas). For more information and tickets, visit www.blacklabtheatre.com or call (713) 515 - 4028.
Photo and Poster Image courtesy of Jordan Jaffe and Black Lab Theatre.