Sunday, April 14, 2013

none too fragile’s WHITE PEOPLE, wrenching, powerful theater!

What does is feel like to be uncomfortable in your own skin, even when you think you know, understand, and act like a moral and good person?  What happens when a playwright forces the viewer to have an unsettling, sobering experience by forcing him or her to challenge assumptions about race, what it means to be an American, and be brutally frank about the language we use?  These are just some of the reasons J. T. Rogers’ play, WHITE PEOPLE’ is such a hard, but valuable sit-through.

WHITE PEOPLE, now on stage at none too fragile theater, is what Rogers terms, “theater that engages the public realm.” Rogers asks, “What does it mean to be a white American?”  “What does it mean for any American to live in a country that is not the one you were promised?”

The play is sobering.  It is unsettling.  It is a  valuable experience for those open-minded enough to absorb the author’s message.  It is the kind of message that stays with you long after the production is over.

The dark, yet sometimes funny play centers on three Americans.  Martin, a Brooklyn-born type-A high powered perfectionist lawyer, now living in St. Louis, Missouri, has very specific values by which he lives, including what to wear, how to speak, and what makes for a proper work ethic.  He has tried to pass these on to his children and is confronted by the realities of life, when many parts of his world collapse around him.

Mara Lynn, a twanging young mother from Fayetteville, NC, who was the high school beauty queen, finds herself in a marriage with her high school love who was a high school hero, who was injured, lost his college wrestling scholarship, is floundering in a job he hates and is passed over for promotions by “foreigners.”  They are parents of an epileptic son who is being treated by a “foreign” doctor who Mara Lynn feels looks down on her.  She pleads to understand why others, not “Americans” are living a life she, a white women whose roots go deep into American soil, is being pushed aside by “those people.”

Allen is a young historical anthropology professor who finds himself in New York teaching many black students who he believes don’t have the desire to succeed.  He is filled with angst and frustration as he recounts a set of interactions with one of his students, and an experience when he and his pregnant wife are attacked by ghetto thugs.

Guilt, prejudice, and the price we pay for not only our actions, but that of others is central to WHITE PEOPLE.

The none too fragile production, under the focused direction of Sean Derry, is compelling.  Robert Branch is excellent as the moralistic Martin.  He is uptight down to his starched white boxer shorts and non-polyester suit and perfect blue shirt.  Michael Gatto creates in Allen a man who is an expert in his study or race and history, who has difficulty living his understandings.  Kelly Strand, though she loses her accent at times, is realistically pathetic as Mara Lynn.  She often stands, staring out in space, internally trying to understand what is going on and why. They each are so real that we identify and suffer with their inner pain.

The performance space is a small thrust stage with audience members no more than ten feet away from the action.   The three-section creative set is cramped.  All this adds to intensifying the  message by making the ideas up close and personal.

Capsule judgement:  WHITE PEOPLE is very well worthwhile for anyone who thinks that gaining insight into personal ideas and values is a mission of theatre.  You won’t leave this production the same person as when you entered.  This is compelling theater!

WHITE PEOPLE runs through May 11, 2013 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron.  Use the free valet parking, as car space is limited.  For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to