BWW Reviews: Black Lab Theatre's THE SUBMISSION - A Must See Topical, Realistic Dramedy

Looking ahead to the Chinese New Year, 2013 is the year of the snake. With my American and Western preconceived notions about snakes and their characteristics, I can't think of a better play to champion right now. Black Lab Theatre's Regional Premiere of Jeff Talbott's THE SUBMISSION is a wholly realistic one-act that features one of the most engaging and unflinchingly honest portrayals of tangibly real Americans I have ever seen. And his character Danny would be a perfect example of what we Westerners think of as a snake.

THE SUBISSION is about a struggling playwright (Danny), who puts an absurd ghost name on his most recently written play-Shaleeha G'ntamobi. Problems ensue when a prestigious festival actually picks up Danny's play. Danny hires an African-American actress, Emilie, to pretend to be Shaleeha G'ntamobi at the festival. Danny's partner, Pete, and Danny's friend, Trevor, support his writing and love his new play, but have difficulties fully backing his plan and offer support and advice along the way. Before long, the four characters are exposing and coming to terms with the non-politically correct truths that lurk under the progressive and accepting of everyone veneer of Generations X and Y, unraveling prejudices based on outward appearance, sexual preference, and even gender.

Direction by Jordan Jaffe is expertly paced and timed. No movement or utterance comes across as contrived or scripted even. This production honestly feels like watching real people react to a real situation. In the hands of a lesser director, the characters could slip into the realm of stereotypes that would deface the brilliant value of the work; however, Jordan Jaffe has pristinely steered his cast away from those pratfalls and, as a team, they have all created astonishingly real people displaying devastatingly real emotions from beginning to climatic and breath-stealing end.

Ross Bautsch deftly plays Danny, complete with a quintessentially authentic New York accent that is neither too thick nor too thin to get in the way of his performance. The audience loves Ross Bautsch's Danny, but they (and the other three characters) are also shocked by his struggles with constantly putting his foot in his mouth. Furthermore, as Danny is further conveyed to the audience, we see a man who is so passionate about his play and his work that he devolves to being a snarky snake that threatens to sue at any moment he feels his toes might be getting slightly stepped on. Ross Bautsh has created a multi-faceted persona for Danny that is as humorous as it is off-putting.

As Emilie, Candice D'Meza is a divine revelation of stagecraft. It would be easy to let Emilie be the stereotypic angry Black woman. But Candice D'Meza has ensured that her Emilie has layers and subtleties that make her complex, charismatic, and mesmerizing. We get to know Emilie as a compassionate and loving person. We get to see her reactions to feeling attacked. We get to see her develop and lose both trust and respect in a situation that sounded better on paper than it actually turns out to be. Candice D'Meza pristinely navigates these waters and brings to life a character that earns sympathy and respect from the audience because she is completely believable from beginning to end.

Pete played by Matt Benton is also a character that could easily become just another stereotype with no depth or soul. The actor could simply phone in his best Big Gay Al impersonation and be done; yet, Matt Benton goes far above and beyond this. Matt Benton's Pete is flamboyant and swishes, but only when it is appropriate for the character to behave in such a manner. Like Candice D'Meza's Emilie, the audience is captivated and emotionally connected to Pete. His affection for Danny mirrors our own, in a way. After all, like Pete, we want Danny to succeed because Danny is our main character, but also like Pete we must come to terms with Danny's unflinching and often inappropriate political incorrectness and lack of tact. While we can react however we want, Matt Benton's Pete reacts inside the situation and does so in substantially real moments that are wonderfully evocative and entrancing, ensuring the audience is affected by his personal story within the context of the play.

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David Clarke David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined running their Houston site in early 2012 and began writing as the site's official theatre recording critic in June of 2013.

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