White People

By J. T. Rogers
The Next Stage Company
Greenwich Street Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Attanas

White People deals with the provocative yet problematic subject of what it means to be white in contemporary America. The plays focuses on three very different white people. First, there is Alan Harris, a troubled, somewhat browbeaten college professor who lives in New York City with his pregnant wife. Then there is Mara Lynn Doddson, a lower-middle-class housewife from North Carolina, who is married to a truck driver and is mother to a boy with the rare disease Rasmussen's Encephalitis. Finally there is Martin Bahmueller, a Brooklyn-born attorney who has recently moved to St. Louis to take a high-level position with a major law firm.

In a series of fractured monologues, the characters tell their stories. And while these stories are all quite different, there are nevertheless a number of common threads; notably fear of the future and uncertainty over relations with "people of color."

While plays regarding cultural strife are very much in fashion these days, they often descend into cliches; and characters quite often are simply types representing their race or ethnicity, rather than complex human beings. Not so with White People. While all three stories are not equally interesting, all three characters are drawn carefully and with great compassion. On the whole, the writing here is excellent. J.T. Rogers is clearly a playwright to watch.

The production was also top-notch all around. John L. Bader and Cynthia Vance both gave passionate performances as Alan Harris and Mara Lynn Doddson, respectively. However, as Martin Bahmueller, the troubled lawyer who rages against the hypocrisy he sees in society yet has completely dysfunctional relationships with both his wife and children, John Ottavino gave a performance that can only be described as riveting. Gus Reyes's direction was properly simple and straightforward, especially considering the small playing spaces the actors had to work in. The set by Jana and Steven Thompson was excellent; and the costumes, lights, and sound by Lorraine Anderson, David Casteneda, and Sheafe B. Walker, respectively, all served the play quite well.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 John Attanas

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