White Noise is stunning at Berkeley Rep

WHITE NOISE: Drama by Suzan-Lori Parks. Directed by Jaki Bradley. Berkeley Rep: Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org.

September 26–November 10, 2019

White Noise is stunning at Berkeley Rep. Rating: ★★★★★

Suzan-Lori Parks won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog and since has accumulated a multitude of honors. In her Pulitzer Prize play her two characters were viscerally realistic and the racism rampant with Underdog saying: “Thuh world puts its foot in yr face and you dont move. You tell thuh world tuh keep on stepping.”  In her latest Play White Noise Parks enters the world of fantasy to re-express her views on racism creating Leo (Chris Herbie Holland), an African American who in his opening monolog tells the audience of his upper middle class upbringing and education. He suffered from adolescent insomnia worrying that the sun has a finite life and may not rise in the morning. The adolescent insomnia morphs into just plain old insomnia that is not helped by the use of white noise (dual meaning) paraphernalia. That insomnia leads to a shocking incidence when he takes a late night walk and is violently thrown to the pavement and injured by policemen.

Before Parks creates that pivotal off-stage action she introduces her other three characters giving each an incisive monolog defining their background and interaction. The white Dawn (Therese Barbato) is a lawyer living with Leo. African American Misha (Aime Donna Kelly) is living with Ralph (Nick Dillenburg) a white English professor. The quartet bonded in college where they formed an unsuccessful band. Leo and Ralph were top-notch bowlers. The couples all seem to be in love although in college the partners were Misha-Leo and Dawn-Ralph.

Leo is an artist and is unable to create due to his intractable insomnia. Misha is a Vlogger with an online show “Ask a Black” taking questions from mostly white viewers with devastating questions such as “Are we gonna have a race war?” She disguises her intelligence by using Ebonics type of speech to be believable by the questioners. Ralph is English professor, who has been passed over for promotion by a Sri Lankan professor who identifies as black. He strongly feels that this is an injustice in the name affirmative action. This feeling will play a pivotal role in Parks’ final act that will send chills up your spine.

Leo asks Ralph to “buy” him allowing Leo to become Ralph’s slave. Leo has composed an extensive contract that all eventually signs. The contract is only for a “biblical” 40 days after which Leo will have earned “his freedom.” Parks has beautifully written scenes that may make you cringe and has also added changes in the relationship of the quartet that are shocking, unexpected and are unneeded padding. One scene invokes the adage “in vino veritas.”

(l to r) Chris Herbie Holland (Leo), Therese Barbato (Dawn), Aimé Donna Kelly (Misha), and Nick Dillenburg (Ralph) in Berkeley Rep’s production of White Noise written by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Jaki Bradley. Photo courtesy of Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Each of the four actors performs with intensity giving their characters verisimilitude and makes you believe Misha’s line “Racism is a virus. And we’ve all got it. Ok, some more than others, ok. The workings of the virus are getting more complicated and the rewards are getting more sophisticated.” Jaki Bradley’s direction keeps the action flowing and the two hours and 45 minutes and a 15 intermission almost race by earning a “solid should see” rating.

The staging, graphics, lighting and sound dovetail intricately and there is the added treat that the second act takes place on a mock-up of a bowling alley.

CAST: Therese Barbato (Dawn);  Nick Dillenberg (Ralph); Chris Herbie Holland (Leo); Aimé Donna Kelly (Misha).

CREATIVE TEAM: Adam Rigg (scenic designer), Tilly Grimes (costume designer), Alexander V. Nichols (lighting and video designer), Mikaal Sulaiman (sound designer), and Caparelliotis Casting, Chris Waters (stage manager).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com

Caption: (l to r) Chris Herbie Holland (Leo), Therese Barbato (Dawn), Aimé Donna Kelly (Misha), and Nick Dillenburg (Ralph) in Berkeley Rep’s production of White Noise written by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Jaki Bradley. Photo courtesy of Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre.