BWW Review: iTheatre Collaborative Presents WHITE GUY ON THE BUS ~ Searing, Riveting, Essential
Bruce Graham pulls no punches in WHITE GUY ON THE BUS, his stinging broadside at the underbelly (the hypocrisies and contradictions) of racism that contaminates the American soul.
His voice, pessimistic as it may be about the possibility of true understanding and reconciliation, is essential in the ongoing discourse about race. ("I know people like to talk about this utopia where we are all singing kumbaya, but we are capable of more evil than anything on the planet," he says in a prior interview. It's a dark vision, but not one to be dismissed.)
His perspective is the flip side of the coin that is etched on the other with the acid clarity of James Baldwin or Spike Lee ~ Until you've really walked a mile in my shoes, you really can't understand my duress. It is the counterblow to the prevailing tendency among white liberals to self-flagellate and apologize for being white and for being endowed with privilege.
The power of Graham's punch is sustained in iTheatre Collaborative's riveting production of WHITE GUY ON THE BUS, superbly directed by the company's artistic director, Christopher Haines and featuring a first-rate cast.
It takes courage to confront an audience with a mirror that may reveal unsightly blemishes, but Haines's conscience and consciousness of the necessity for exposure is unrestrained. His staging is taut, dramatic, and provocative ~ setting scenes in the context of a triptych within which action shifts seamlessly between frames.
Privilege belongs to Ray (Matthew Cary, delivering a performance that is heightened with authenticity and humanity), the white guy, a self-defined numbers man who aches to escape his tawdry and compromising world of accounting but is set by unforeseen circumstances on a path that tests the essence of his humanity. His wife, Roz (played with self-righteous fortitude by Kim LaVelle), teaches in an underperforming school where her impressions are forged in frustration. Their almost-like-a-son friend Christopher (Christian Boden) is developing a provocative thesis on ethnocentric marketing that may backfire in the halls of politically correct academia. Christopher's s.o., Molly (Hayla Stewart), Graham's epitome of a utopian, is unrelentingly intolerant of bigotry.
Between scenes peppered with reveries about the good life and fierce exchanges about racial stereotyping, Ray mysteriously breaks away to ride an inner city bus where he meets a black woman, Shatique (Victoria Stokes, a powerhouse of passion). What starts as casual conversation over the course of several rides ends up with a most unusual business proposition that drives to the heart of darkness.
No spoilers now. The weave of this play is too fine to unravel prematurely. It would be unfair to share what underlies the motives for the bus ride and the stunning twist that turns the play on its head. Let it be said only that what ensues will knock you for a loop.
Because Graham's play is unsettling and brutally honest, it demands to be seen, to be absorbed, and to be contemplated. There can be no better opportunity to bear the sting of this gut punch than to step into the ring with Haines's heavy hitters.
WHITE GUY ON THE BUS is the first in iTheatre's season of plays dedicated (under the rubric of CIVIL DIS-) to the stresses that define our times ~ civil dissonance and discord. The production is an inviting forecast of productions to come (The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Hostage, and Frost/Nixon).
WHITE GUY ON THE BUS runs through September 22nd in the Kax Theatre at Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.
Poster credit to iTheatre Collaborative