Racial TNT on the IRT

The Dutchman

By Amiri Baraka
Directed by Ken Terrell
The Curan Repertory Company, Inc.
At Theatre 22
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Andrès J. Wrath

The groundbreaking 1964 play Dutchman by Amiri Baraka received a stunning production by The Curan Repertory Company, Inc. at Theatre 22. Both well-acted and -executed, Dutchman was surprisingly fresh and still as bold as ever.

On his way to a party, Clay (Steven Peacock Jacoby), a young middle-class African American, is approached by a beautiful blonde woman named Lula (Annie Carlson), who begins to boldly flirt with him. After a while Lula's flirtations turn into vicious attacks on African Americans and on Clay's upward aspirations. No longer able to contain himself, Clay launches into a tirade about his deep-seated hatred for whites. Lula silences him first by "I've heard enough!" and then by her knife. After his body is carted off by the passengers on the train, Lula waits for her next victim.

Written and first performed at the height of the Off- and Off-Off-Broadway movement, Dutchman was revolutionary in its depiction of black rage as well as its mixing of realistic elements with surrealism. The play's strong point is its language, which is as raw as it is poetic. At times it amazingly sounds very much like a jazz score. The heightened use of symbols - such as the apple and the title - give the raw starkness of its subway setting a mysterious quality. The references in the play were updated for this production, which gave it an immediacy that was needed in order for the proceedings to work.

Jacoby's Clay was a combination of pent-up raw sexual energy and rage. As complex as Clay is, Jacoby's simplicity lent a razor-sharp specificity of character that was grounded and powerful. When being flirted with, Jacoby's Clay flirted with the best of them, but when spurned and terrorized by Lula, his Clay became a hothouse of primal aggression. Lula, as embodied by Annie Carlson, was a seductress and a very cunning one at that. Never did Lula become a sketch or a caricature in this production. If anything, her Lula was so grounded in true behavior and honesty that she became scarier than if played for cheep theatricality. Like the Dutchman, Carlson's Lula was relentless in her search for the man to set her free of her quest.

Kudos to director Ken Terrell - never once did a note ring false. On a limited budget and performed at Theatre 22, he used nothing but a few blocks, some crumpled newspapers, a few subway signs on visible wires, and some sound effects to create the world of a subway. Under a less-gifted hand it would have been nothing but a few blocks, crumpled newspapers, and signs on a wire. The uncredited set was used well; the uncredited lighting was a little more than adequate.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Andrès J. Wrath