BWW Review: Racial injustice is explored in the confessional A WHITE MAN'S GUIDE TO RIKER'S ISLAND at The Producer's Club
Riker's Island is New York City's notorious jail complex. 85% of the inmates have not been convicted of a crime. Unable to post bail, many defendants are incarcerated until their trial. The rest of the population are convicted criminals serving short sentences. Richard L. Roy tells his own story in A White Man's Guide to Riker's Island.
Mr. Roy begins his tale with "I killed a man. I kill a man every night. Every night the same man." Co-written with Eric C. Webb, this confessional play has been enriched with the passage of time. That perspective makes this material much more than a recollection of a white person's experience in jail. Mr. Roy's wrongs are commingled with society's wrongs in an attempt to articulate personal and political outrage.
On the stage is an enlarged picture of a very handsome young blonde man in boxing shorts. He is standing next to Muhammad Ali who has autographed the photo. As a young man, Mr. Roy was a boxer who had the opportunity to spar with the great champion a few times. After getting knocked out once during a professional bout, he quit the sport and turned into an actor.
After landing a few gigs right off the bat, Richard goes out with his buddies to celebrate. One more shot of Jack Daniels. Rather than drive home, his destructive voice decides to visit the notorious Meat Market section of Manhattan. Back in the 1970's everything was for sale on the streets there. He consumes $30 worth of cocaine. Behind the wheel flying high, he jumps a light and kills a young man on a motorcycle.
Richard is the first to point out that he is the embodiment of white privilege. He is released on bail for two years of freedom until the trial. A pricey lawyer gets him a very short six month sentence. That is why this athletic and blond epitome of a white American male is sentenced to Rikers. The rest of his tale is a journey of survival both physically and mentally.
Most of this long monologue is performed by a young actor named Connor Chase Stewart making his off-off Broadway debut. That is a good thing since Mr. Roy doesn't have the chops to hold a stage for this long. Mr. Stewart gets a lot of ground to cover from wide-eyed fear to egotistical juggler.
Learning about juggling is one of the many terms which will be taught to the audience. The title for A White Man's Guide to Riker's Island is taken from some journalistic writings that Mr. Roy did while serving time. He used his heavy sarcasm and intelligence to find a way to thrive in jail. The play is a lesson about race. A quintessentially privileged white man is plunged into a society where he is in the minority.
The characters that are impersonated by Mr. Stewart in this monologue are memorable. Some might find the stereotyping objectionable but the verbal context definitely added color, drama and humor to this memoir. The thoughtful character growth was also interesting as he examines racism and our judicial system. The topic remains timely and relevant.
Mr. Roy obviously has a snarky edge. In the prison paper he tells us that he keeps the writing "light and fun." Everyone is stuck there and no one wants to read someone's bitching about this or that. There are many sarcastic asides tossed around in this autobiography. Many of them are political or observational wisecracks designed to pack a witty punch. They occasionally work but more often seemed overly forced into the text to boldly highlight feelings of contempt.
The moral disgrace of America's race history is the larger target of this story. From a fascinating point of view, Mr. Roy has taken one man's journey to illuminate his observations about an enormous systemic injustice. That is very interesting theater. The performances and staging certainly could be further developed. This monologue should probably be shortened as well. That said, A White Man's Guide to Riker's Island is a serious contribution to our seemingly never-ending but necessary discord on race in America.