Sarah Grimke is an artist and arts administrator in Philadelphia. They love art that grasps you fully and pushes boundaries. They want to desperately need to discuss a show after seeing it.

VT is a deviser that makes it a point to not see shows too often in the hopes that it won’t taint the joy and wonder they feel whenever they watch live performance.

Nan is an actor and maker.

Unloading our Pockets 

Sarah

I know and like some of the people involved in this show, but I’ve had really hit or miss experiences with The Lantern’s work and was kind of expecting to hate it.

 

VT

Same. I have a strong aversion to the their programming in general. I actually received a ticket from a friend and was very let down when I learned that it was a 2 hour and 30 minute Lantern show about race.

 

Nan

I also had some friends in the show, and I’ve been seeing Lantern shows on and off since I was a kid, with some really amazing experiences and some pretty lackluster ones. I also have friend who saw the original production of the play in London and adored it. I had heard really amazing things about this production, but I also know the director and was confused as to who thought it would be a good idea to have a white man directing this play.

 

The Take-Away:

  • Sarah– I thought the scenic design hurt the show and the lighting did very little, but that there were some strong performances.

  • VT –  In a play that seems focus a lot on the role that white saviors play in the livelihood of their black peers, why would the Lantern decide to hire a white director to work on a piece like this? It’s incredibly tone deaf. 

  • Nan –  I also think DeLaurier was the wrong man for the job– the show really needed a POC in charge, and you could tell.

 

Design:

Sarah

I thought the scenic design caused some serious problems and didn’t help tell the story. Parts of the stage were barely used because the sight lines were abysmal for much of the audience. I could see some sections well, but others required leaning or turning my head entirely in one direction. I was super frustrated by that.

VT

I agree about the scenic design, although the combination of the lighting under the backdrop of the red curtains felt like perfect synergy.

Nan

The most noticeable design element for me was the costumes. I noticed that some garments desperately needed alteration. The wigs were terrible– to put Liz Filios in a red wig and not even try to get close to her natural color? Yeesh!

Sarah

I thought that the costumes were beautiful, but I agree that the wigs were atrocious. Poor Liz Filios in the same wig in 3 different colors, did a beautiful job acting up a storm despite it.

Lighting didn’t aid the story or give me much information. They did some marvelous things at a couple of points (for example, the thunderstorm), but otherwise it was just a wash.

The sound design provided lots of ambient noise that helped tell the story and also good use of scoring to aid in the emotional arc.

Props crushed it with a million beautiful tiny details. Those newspapers! The furniture!

 

VT

I know! It was really some of the best prop design I’ve seen – Shannon O’Brien’s work really lends a lot of verisimilitude to a play like this. 

 

Nan

Agreed that props were fantastic, big props to Shannon!

 

Talk about the direction :

VT

The ending of this show is incredibly confusing to me. And I actually think this is a director problem – not a problem with the script. There’s this question of, “Does Forrest McClendon putting on whiteface while performing King Lear serve to enhance the ideas of this piece, or undermine them?” There were so many choices Peter DeLaurier could’ve made to give this moment some clarity – clarity that an audience at the Lantern needs in order for this show to have any impact.

Nan

I was also confused by the ending. And I also think DeLaurier was the wrong man for the job– the show really needed a POC in charge, and you could tell. The amount of energy put towards the “oh shit, it’s a black man” reaction of the white company? Clearly his favorite part of the play.

 

The Script:

VT

This is a relatively newer play, receiving its world premiere in 2014. Lolita Chakrabarti has done a great job of capturing the racial stumblings that come with being the only person of color in a white space, but there are certain character choices that feel as though they contradict the message of the story. For instance, the choice to relegate the only other black character to the role of a maid is a bit frustrating. Product of the times, yes, but to use this as the basis from which her entire character operates feels so reductive.

Nan

Completely agreed. I was also disappointed in the maid character. I felt like under DeLaurier she mostly served as someone for the white audience members to look at uncomfortably as all this awful racist stuff went down, and wonder if she is going to say or do anything about it. And then she never really does. I think Chakrabarti likely had a clearer idea of the function of the character that somehow did not make it into this production.

Performances:

VT

This was the first time I’ve seen Forrest McClendon perform, and he certainly lives up to his reputation. He carries the weight of the entire show on his shoulders, and oozes a special kind of charisma.

Nan

McClendon was fantastic! I was a bit surprised at how affected his performance was, but overall it was definitely the highlight of the production for me. He also manages to craft some kind of character arc out of a script that really only gives him Amadeus-esque old age bookends and a single complicated event in his past. Definitely not an easy feat. I  really enjoyed his scenes with Damon Bonetti.

VT

Damon Bonetti is a solid performer, but he had a tendency to lose commitment to to his accent, and slipped up quite a few times. Liz Filios does a great job of garnering empathy in her opening and closing scenes.

Nan

Liz Filios was also great in a pretty challenging range of characters.

VT

I want to add that David Pica is always endearing to watch onstage and manages laughs with very little effort.
Accountability:

Sarah

While there are some things that I didn’t like in this script, there were also some really wonderful ideas being explored. What is the toll of being the trailblazer or the only one of your race in a room over and over again?  I really liked the discussion it brought up of what being a good ally or accomplice is. Damon Bonetti’s character is a good talking point.

VT

Agreed, I think Damon’s character in this play captures a lot of what we’re thinking when we talk about the differences between allies and accomplices. He is willing to rock the boat to a certain point, but quickly becomes wishy-washy when the going gets tough.

I do, however, think there’s an irony in certain choices that the Lantern made that sort of negates these talking points. In a play that seems focus a lot on the role that white saviors play in the livelihood of their black peers, why would the Lantern decide to hire a white director to work on a piece like this? It’s incredibly tone deaf. 

Nan

VT, I completely agree. I think the playwright intended this for a director with a much more nuanced concept of race. This play could have been presented as so topical and relevant, but instead was treated like a classic written by a contemporary author.

DeLaurier seems so much more interested in the actors’ conversations about craft, and their reactions to Aldridge’s appearance, than in race, even in a “product of the times” play, as Sarah says.

In short, I don’t think the play  is for a white director or a very white subscriber base like the Lantern has, and as a result, the production is more for liberal leaning white people who like to think they can take a challenging conversation about race.

For me, the Damon/McClendon scene was the only part of the play where they really started talking about interesting nuances, as opposed to the incredibly unuseful and oversimplified “things were really shitty back then for black people”, which it mostly seemed to come down to.

 

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