Category Archive for: ‘Carol Benet’

“White” at Shotgun Players, Berkeley

“White” at Shotgun Players, Berkeley

Carol Benet

Good news; bad news.  The good news is that “White” at Shotgun Players in Berkeley has extended its sold-out run an additional week through August 5, 2018.  The bad news, that it is only another week.  But kind of good news is that its talented playwright James Ijames is at the Headlands for the Arts in Sausalito this summer so that maybe this East Coast figure will become part of our Bay Area theater community and we will see more of this multi-award winning work.

“White” is a spare four person play with one extraordinary actress Santoya Fields playing three roles and in one of them she has several alter egos.  She appears as the fiery and sequined goddess Diana, and as the friend Vanessa  and as Balkonaé who pretends that she is the real artist behind the work of artist Gus (Adam Donovan).

Gus has been shut out of a upcoming exhibition of “New America” at the important Parnell Museum of Contemporary Art.  Why?  Because he is a white male.  It doesn’t count that he is gay.  What counts is that he is not a racial minority, a requirement of the curator Jane (Luisa Frasconi) who insists on racial minority artists for her upcoming exhibit.

Gus is furious and complains to his Asian lover Tanner (Jed Parsario) during their torrid love scenes that he keeps interrupting with questions like “Am I only a racial tourist?” or other demeaning definitions thrown at him by Vanessa.  These sex scenes are explicit.

Gus comes up with an idea on how he can be included in the “New America” exhibit. He asks his African American actress friend Vanessa if she will pretend that it is she who has created his minimalist “White” paintings and see if in that way, they will be accepted.  A hilarious scene ensues  where the very, very talented Santoya tries out different personnae for her new role.  She settles on the strong, no nonsense, pushy, decisive, bombshell black woman, after trying several others.  Of course what she chooses is one stereotype of the black woman in American society.

Other stereotypes are bandied around.  The somewhat air-headed curator Jane talks in art critique speak and expresses her lofty idealism for future exhibits..  And Gus is filled with stereotypes, even as he portrays one as the beleaguered gay, white, privileged artist.  Tanner is the most reasonable and he keeps bringing Gus back to reality.  And the goddess Diana (Fields again) is a representation of the ideal black woman her lofty and gorgeous presentation high above the stage.  This is a play about stereotyping and whatever ones you hold at the beginning of the play, they are turned up-side-down by the end.  Vanessa’s reenactment of a Bill Cosby show is simply hilarious.

Ulises Alcala’s costumes, especially for Fields in her several roles are fabulous.  Nina Ball, one of the best set designers in the Bay Area, creates a workable paneled set that slides to reveal Gus’s studio, or his apartment or the white walled museum of the exhibit opening.  Cliff Caruthers’ sound is also terrific as it even goes show-time with Fields at a microphone at times.  And it is the director M. Graham Smith’s who deserves much credit for bringing this multi-layered script into a forceful coherent  work.  I’m sure he had his hands full, especially when Vanessa gives he last monologue to the museum guests.  Here her many voices come out, a scene that is not entirely successful because so much meaning is expected of it. But maybe the meaning is the confusion Vanessa feels.

Let’s hope that “White” plays again in the Bay Area or that we see more of the work of James Ijames.

Shotgun Players, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley,  shotgunplayers.org.  510 841 6500.

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