Nora lives around the corner from a new apartment complex with a sign that somebody graffitied “Fuck Gentrification” over.

C is a really good person to talk to.

 

C

Sooo in my pockets: I was rushing to get there and was anxious because I knew I would have to run out and run back in and I was trapped in the back so it took me a second to settle into the play.

Nora

Ooooh. That’s a rocky start.

C

In reflecting, I am also starting to give the side-eye to Matt Pfeiffer being the ‘go to” director on plays about race relations. So I definitely caught my eyes roll when it sunk it during the curtain speech.

Nora

I’ve worked with Akeem before and love him so much as an actor and a person, so my pockets were full of that. Theatre Exile is my favorite theatre company in the city and, yes, I am very aware of Pfieffer being the go-to guy for race relation plays. Although the play kind of back-seated the more interesting racial tensions of the piece for a pretty traditional love-triangle thing?

C

I wanted to make sure I came to support Akeem, Matteo, and Alex, as well. Exile is cool, I don’t have strong opinions of it. When I go I’ve typically liked what I’ve seen.

Nora

Oh, I must also say, I live on a street that was the only untouched-by-development street in my neighborhood, and slowly but surely I have watched housing complex after housing complex go up over the past 3 years. And I grew up/hung out with all of the “Dons” in my high school. So, on reflection, I guess my pockets were pretty full.

C

Wow! On the flipside, I lived on a street where 20 houses were being erected on one side of the street and the opposite were all old black home owners, and then I rented the old property on the corner.

Nora

Isn’t Philadelphia weird like that? It’s so different block by block.

C

My pockets were fuller on reflection too, but as far as “walking in” this was what I was aware of.

Nora

I didn’t know anything about the play walking in, but I think Buzzer is supposed to take place in Brooklyn, and I kind of hated the changing of some names of streets and stuff to make an audience go “oh! He’s from West Chester! That makes sense to me!” …we get the parallel…. We’re not dumb.

C

Do you think that was a choice for this production or how it’s written?

Nora

I think it was a choice. Although maybe it’s written to be adapted for whatever city it is being produced in? What did you think of Tracey Scott Wilson’s writing?

C

I really enjoyed the dialogue. I was very tense. I didn’t laugh at all because I was waiting for real shit to hit a real fan and I don’t know that that happened for me. I stayed tense when the lights came up.

Nora

The dialogue definitely moved. At points I was really aware I was watching a play “None of our friends would come here. Shit. WE wouldn’t come here if we didn’t live here!” People don’t really talk like that.

C

Ha!

Nora

But yes, hard agree about that unresolved tenseness. Do you think that helped or hurt your experience?

C

I do appreciate that I know these “characters” they are recognizable. None of them were “stereotypical” for me. They all had their biases and their truths.  I find many of these plays dealing with race are a bit flat/one note archetypal characters.

Nora

Totally. I thought they also looked the part. Alison Roberts’ costume design was solid. I saw “White Guy on the Bus by Bruce Graham down at Delaware Theatre Company earlier this year, and Buzzer felt VERY similar. I think White Guy was more successful at being hard hitting and kind of scary, but this felt familiar to conversations I’ve been involved in.

C

I thought the set was cool too. although once they started using the front door I was confused about entrances and exits.

Nora

The set was cool! Those old windows with the metal chains. So accurate to those converted warehouse apartments. Thom Weaver is pretty incredible. But you’re right, they used that stage right exit to go further into the apartment, but also to go to the other apartments when the neighbors entered? And there was a basement stage left that Jackson sometimes entered from? They kept saying how spacious the apartment was, but I don’t know if any converted warehouses are that spacious.

C

Yea, It was weird. I wish they would’ve committed to the “Outside door.”

Nora

Especially because it was the last moment of the play!!!

C

Right!

Nora

What did you think of the direction, overall?

C

There were a lot of long moments upstage of the couch. The actors looked trapped behind it sometimes.  Otherwise, It was not over complicated. I really love that we can see the hallway entrances.

Nora

I did too. I liked that “Buzzer” applied to the (literal) Buzzer being broken in the apartment (meaning 1. The landlord didn’t really care to double check that before people moved in and 2. You never know who is at your door), and also Jackson’s cell phone constantly ringing at important moments. That was a nice touch. I also thought the fight at the end between Don and Jackson was preeeetty realistic.

C

Yeah. I believed Don and Jackson’s relationship.

Nora

I am actually very interested in hearing more about you rolling your eyes about Pfeiffer being the go to about race plays.

 

C

I just have not been impressed by his lack of nuance and I honestly think if hadn’t chosen such a smart ensemble of actors this would not have been as good. I just don’t understand why he is the first person thought up when someone wants to talk about race.

 

Nora

It’s not his fault that companies keep hiring him to direct pieces like this, but there are a ton of talented directors of color and female directors and female directors of color who could take on a play written by a woman of color.

C

The assistant Director is a woman of color and the Sound Designer is a person of color (not a woman) but I wish there was a dramaturg of color on the project.

Nora

Ahhhhh. I see.

C

Which is why I would say that the actors did all the work and Exile isn’t being as raw and edgy and different as they make themselves out to be. Which for me just affirms that great actors do not always equal a great production.

Nora

Makes sense.

C

I was underwhelmed.

Nora

Me too. While I enjoyed my experience, I really wanted to be blown away.

C

SAAAAMMMEEE.

Nora

It kind of felt like a serious “issue” episode of a sitcom.

C

BWAH!

Nora

Acting wise, I thought Matteo Scammell was really REALLY good. I thought he did a really great job at not “playing at” being an addict. It was the right mix of desperation and likability and “bored rich kid” privilege.

C

Agreed. I really enjoyed what he did with it as well. I too know Don’s like him…..and also Suzys.

Nora

I, also, know so many Suzys. Suzy kind of sucks as a person. Which is unfortunate, because she is the only female voice.

C

Many of my white girlfriends who teach have had these sort of conscious biases.

Nora

You’re totally right. I know a lot of the teachers who talk like her. “You don’t understand what *I* have to DEAL with! *I* get it! *insert (unintentional?) racist remark here*.” There’s actually an identical character (although older) in White Guy on the Bus.

C

Oh Suzy is SOO problematic. But I’ve seem Akeem and Alex Keiper in these sort of roles before. I usually see Matteo in more serious characters, so that was the only performance I would say was fresh. I felt like I’ve seen it before, just with different words.

Nora

That isn’t their fault. Philly Theatre tends to cast from the same pool of actors for similar parts. Every new part should challenge an actor to find new things, and sometimes that isn’t the case. Which is fine, but meh.

C

EXACTLY. I think their familiarity with each other speaks to your point earlier about it feeling more like a love triangle than getting to the meat of the racial tension

 

Nora

Do you think the dude downstairs stole the watch? Did Don steal it? Did Jackson make it up? Does Suzy ever tell the truth (since Jackson and her are probably going to break up anyway)? How come Madison Auch and Frank Nardi, Jr. are billed as “White Neighbor” and Jahzeer Terrell is billed as “Black Man”? I have so many questions! Good questions!

C

I thought Don stole the watch at first, but now I do think the dude stole it. I think something that is a real issue within the piece is people keeping important secrets from their loved ones. In a play, we expect for the truth to be found out, so I was a little pleasantly surprised as a playwright that she doesn’t tell it. But as an audience member it left me with tension.

Nora

Ah yes. “Why do you think you can understand this world if you don’t really know it.” Which can also apply to people. You want to scream at the stage, which is kind of a nice reaction, since I’m so used to not feeling anything. Did we just crack the play?

C

I think so? Good job us!

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