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BWW Review: In the Hot Seat with DUTCHMAN at Monument Theatre Company

BWW Review: In the Hot Seat with DUTCHMAN at Monument Theatre CompanyDUTCHMAN by Amiri Baraka has an essence all its own that is complicated, lyrical, and timeless. This production by Monument Theatre Company pushes at the edges of comfort and makes you as an audience member not only pay attention but also become a part of what is happening on the stage.


I was excited to sit down to witness this play in action because I had read it before and knew it presented a whole host of complications. It features only two roles, no breaks, and dialogue that verges on the unbelievable. I was so intrigued to see this intense work come to life.

I was not at all disappointed because Director Shawn Whitsell helped shape a production that was in your face in all the best ways. The set is simple, a few benches, and the costuming evoked the time period in which the play was written, 1964. His direction pushed the performers to create a palpable tension brought on by examining in an intimate way the effects of systemic racism.

Since the play hinges on two characters, it is important to have two fearless actors to tackle this complicated text. Luckily, both rose to the challenge. Jamaal McCray as Clay moves his character through a clear arc from somewhat reluctant participant to active agent in this fraught social setting between a black man and a white woman. He tries to play it cool as this woman comes at him in the most bizarre and grotesque ways, but just like the blues musicians he names, his calm demeanor belies the tension and unrest he experiences as a black man in a white-dominated world. Dani Gibbs as Lula was mesmerizing in a sickening way. She moves between sly seductress and plain crazy in truly unsettling ways, but you can't look away.

What makes this production so unique is that it does not let the audience sit back and observe. It demands that the audience understand their role in what is happening on stage. The actors actively involve some audience members and make deliberate eye contact. There is no forgiveness or fourth wall in this production. You are a part of it, for better or worse, and there is something so enticing about a theater experience that makes you an active participant.


Amiri Baraka passed away in 2014 at the age of 79, but his most excellent drama, DUTCHMAN continues to be one of the great plays of the 20th century. Just how daunting this show was still streams through my mind as I remember my Friday night at Indy Convergence, where the Monument Theatre Company revived this explosive, 45-minute reflection on race, sexual desire, and rage.

DUTCHMAN, a graceful masterpiece, is a intensely personal and furiously political play written just as Baraka was in the middle of a divorce with his white wife and was fully supporting black nationalism.

Set entirely in real-time within a New York City subway car, the show has not only lost none of its potency in the last half century but is now acting as a stark reminder of the shyness of most modern-day dramas about the racial clash of whites and blacks, both in public spaces like a sub car or in the privacy of the human mind. This intensely chilling 45-minute, one-act drama vividly explained the fury that white people feel toward African Americans therefore creating rage from African Americans. This play illustrated a social dynamic that still lingers today after more than 50 years.

Dani Gibbs (Lula) perfectly played the sensual, hate-filled, psychotic while Jamaal McCray (Clay) was they steady, controlled opposite, but his anger exploded with the extreme actions from Lula. These two actors gave expert performances as the tension moved from sex to pure race hatred. This drama will shake you to your core.

Do not miss your chance to sit in the hot seat and experience DUTCHMAN for yourself. It is a raw and experience and is well-chosen for Black History Month. DUTCHMAN can be seen from now until February 23rd.

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