BWW Review: Mosaic Theater Brings Back Thought-Provoking HOODED, OR BEING BLACK FOR DUMMIES
If, like me, you missed Mosaic Theater Company's HOODED, OR BEING BLACK FOR DUMMIES last season, here's your second chance: a remount, featuring almost all of the original cast, has arrived by popular demand. As timely as ever, it uses elements of realism, surrealism, and Greek mythology to convey what it's like to be a young black man in America at this very moment. I've called plays from Mosaic "essential viewing" before, and that description certainly applies here.
Local playwright Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm has spun a complex but accessible tale that feels hot off the press as of this afternoon, referencing topics from Kanye and Tupac to slavery and police brutality. HOODED is about Tru (Jeremy Keith Hunter), a funny, swaggering Baltimore kid who tries to teach clueless, adopted prep school nerd Marquis (Keith L. Royal Smith) how to be black. They meet in a holding cell, guarded by the ever-watchful Officer Borzoi (Frederick Strother). While they wait, Marquis demonstrates the newest social media trend, "#Trayvoning", lying facedown in a hoodie with Skittles in one hand and Arizona tea in the other. (I Googled it, and this meme was apparently a real thing at one time.)
This sets the sometimes uneven, intentionally offensive tone for the play. Always teetering on the edge of reality and appropriateness, it makes copious use of the N-word, limited use of the R-word, and features a light-up "laugh" sign for the audience which only seems to glow at the most asinine moments. Fortunately, these tonal shifts are largely successful and serve to illustrate a broader point: one minute we're laughing, and the next, violence becomes real.
As for the other characters, ridiculously named white high-schoolers Prairie (Marni Penning), Meadow (Emma Loughran), and Clementine (Madeline Joey Rose) fawn over boys and Instagram, tentatively entertaining the idea of being attracted to a black man. Their preppy counterparts Hunter (Dylan Morrison Myers) and Fielder (Josh Adams) equate blackness with coolness. But when Hunter gets his hands on Tru's specially-penned manual for Marquis, "Being Black for Dummies", Hunter learns to perform that blackness - to disastrous results.
HOODED is consistently funny, biting, and insightful. It uses dialogue and visuals designed to provoke a breathless reaction. Does it earn its dramatic, devastating one-two punch of a climax? I encourage you to see it and debate for yourself. After all, you'll want to discuss this piece and its unspooling of ideas about race in detail afterwards.
Running time: approximately 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission.
Mosaic Theater's HOODED, OR BEING BLACK FOR DUMMIES runs through June 3rd, 2018, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. Tickets can be purchased at www.mosaictheater.org or by calling (202) 399-7993.