These White People Have Problems

These White People Have Problems
Courtesy Churchmouse Productions
Jack O’Donnell, Charissa Lee and Jason Folks play the white people in White People at the Bath House.

Remember how the election of Barack Obama was supposed to define the era of "post-racial" America? That lasted about a minute. Then out they came, the ravening racists. Liberated at last, they no longer felt constrained about expressing their abhorrent views in public. That includes those in public office.

Remember Republican Congressman Joe Wilson shouting "You lie!" at the president during the State of the Union speech? Nobody ever did that to Bush 43, the lyingest president in history. Has any other American president been harangued for his birth and college records, as President Obama was by combover troll Donald Trump? Has any white first lady ever been called "uppity," as Michelle Obama has been by right-wing radio zeppelin Rush Limbaugh?

Playwright J.T. Rogers' play White People, now onstage at the Bath House Cultural Center in an earnest production by Churchmouse, pre-dates the Obama years, but it's still a relevant, if simplistic, discussion of racism from three perspectives. Three white people's perspectives, that is, over one hour and 40 intermissionless minutes of interlocking monologues.

Rogers, a New York playwright, seems to be making the case in his play that some people are born racist, some try to fight racist attitudes toward minorities that might occasionally bubble up and some don't even recognize their own prejudices until they come back to haunt them later in life. It's a play about issues, serious ones. But as so many plays about issues are, it takes itself far too seriously and sacrifices character development for solemn editorializing.

The three characters are broad-brush stereotypes of white people who have problems with brown people. The most nuanced of the trio is Alan (played by Jason Folks), a liberal New York City college professor who lectures at length on the courage of Manhattan's early Dutch colonizers, excusing their sometimes homicidal treatment of natives, Jews and Quakers. Stammering through his speeches, Alan speaks admiringly of a black college student he teaches, Felicia, who has a sharp intellect but wears braided hair and "earrings the size of small planets." Eventually Alan gets to the reason he's become conflicted about African Americans. He and his pregnant wife were mugged by black teens in the park. The attack has injured their unborn child. He doesn't want to hate and fear minorities, but, the play asks, why shouldn't he, given this good reason to?

A Brooklyn-born lawyer transferred to run a firm in St. Louis, the character called Martin (Jack O'Donnell) defines what he calls "people of a certain pigment" by their status in the business world. The black mailroom workers won't advance in the company if they don't stop playing "that music" on the job (Martin prefers Dialogues of the Carmelites, which doesn't seem like a better alternative). And it infuriates him when his black executive assistant pops her gum and makes spelling errors when she types his memos. Martin has tightened up the dress code at work, he says, because "I don't want to see gold teeth and I don't want to see your butt cheeks." He's all Brooks Brothers. "Egyptian cotton," he says, pulling at his crisp blue shirt. "French cuffs say 'I make money.' A button-down collar says 'I'm wearing Fruit of the Loom briefs and they are stained.'"

The third member of this dramatic triptych is Mara Lynn (Charissa Lee), a twangy North Carolina housewife married to a blue-collar drunk named, of course, Earl. She pines for her glory days as a college beauty queen who dated the football star. Now she's packing a suitcase for a trip to a big city hospital where an Indian-born doctor, a specialist, can help her son who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. She purses her lips as she talks about feeling condescended to by the doctor. How dare he talk to a white lady that way? "All these new people," she hisses. "They need to wait their turn. We were here first!"

Directed by Chad Cline, this production of White People is two-thirds of the way there in terms of strong, subtle acting that imbues the preachy monologues with some humanity. Folks and O'Donnell give their characters, the brainy academic and the simmering-mad lawyer, rich inner lives and they keep their emotions almost cinematically beneath the surface. O'Donnell has not a trace of Brooklyn-ness about him, but he is good at setting Martin on a slow boil, working up to the story of his character's son, who commits a terrible act of violence against a young black woman. As the offspring of a well-educated, white-collar racist, the young man has grown up to be an angry skinhead. It's what happens to the carefully taught.

In comparison with the men, Charissa Lee is a cartoon, pouring too much molasses on her Southern accent. Her Mara Lynn isn't supposed to be likable — she's the woman you don't want to sit next to on a long flight because you just know she'll use the N-word and spout Bible verses — but she should at least be believable folding laundry, which this actress isn't.

Cline has staged the play by dividing the intimate Bath House acting space into thirds. Folks sits on a park bench and occasionally walks into the light down center stage. O'Donnell orbits a small desk stage left (and that desk is a little shoddy for an attorney running a large firm). Lee circles a bare wooden table stage right. The characters don't interact. They speak directly to us, though it's not clear whom playwright Rogers imagines they're addressing. It's one of those conundrums of plays like this: Characters confessing terrible secrets to the fourth wall for no logical reason.

 
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12 comments
PabloCervantes
PabloCervantes

I wish the Dallas Observer were the exception but sadly far too much of the media is near sighted and incapable of referencing anything further back in history than 3 months. Jesse Jackson commenting on open mike during the 2008 debates that Obama "wasn't black enough" and later, "I'll cut his balls off". Racist? That's a cheap shot. Who can respect a President who apologizes to our enemies and allies alike, won't salute the flag, vows to circumvent Congress every opportunity possible and outright lies on a daily basis.

friendlytxn46
friendlytxn46

A "lady on a long flight" using the "N-word" and reading Bible verses. What B.S. Most likely it would be some smart mouth liberal using the F-word and calling other people racist/bigot/homophobe and patting himself on the back for his moral superiority. 

SamHouston
SamHouston

So how exactly is it racism to call out a blatant liar, and call them for what they are; a liar?  That's right, in your demented mind, PB&J sandwiches, watermelon, bananas, and taco parties are racist.  Bet you believe that it is racist to display the Flag of the United States of American on that much revered Mexican holiday on May 5th.   Your lunacy is what is wrong with America today.


Obama has proven to be a habitual liar.  He is also the most secretive President ever keeping his past firmly and securely locked away.  Common Sense dictates that by the extensive  measures that he as taken to lock up his past, he is truly hiding something very important and worth hiding.   That makes him untrustworthy right there.  He has made promise after promise to the American People yet he has broken everyone.   He does, however, greatly reward his friends and supporters.  I can find no President of the modern era that has had so many conflict of interests cases nor the amount of scandals.  Bush comparisons fall drastically short of the mark, let alone, supersede that of Obama who still has 2 years to go.  


As for Michele Obama, no FLOTUS in modern history can compare to her bossy and uppity attitude towards the plight of Americans.  Remember, she was never proud to be an American till he husband landed the White House.  Speaking of, that  offensive name for the Presidential palace should be changed.  A Black woman in the White House.  How racist!  It shall forever forth be called the House of Color.


As for the diatribe that you call a play, we are not amused.  Drumming up racial stereotypes of Whites from the past serves no purpose but to insight further racial tension against White.  Is this some sort of sycophant retribution for your Slave owning grandparents?  You could only topped this Spike Lee-esque theater by having actors in White Face.  People like this, Progressive Liberals, have only one reason of opening up old wounds, the power and control of continuing racial strife.   

texascy
texascy

Pretty sure Richard Nixon is the lyingest president in history.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@wuzyoungoncetoo1

You're just being a drama queen.  In truth, Bush wasn't burned in effigy by any congressman - not before or after a speech, and not during.

Still, it's pretty cool that we've shamed a few of you freaks into having to make up reasons to hate him, instead of voicing your racism overtly.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@PabloCervantes

You're just being a drama queen.  Obama made no "vows to circumvent Congress" - not at the first opportunity or the last, and certainly not at every one.

Still, it's pretty cool that we've shamed a few of you freaks into having to make up reasons to hate him, instead of voicing your racism overtly.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@friendlytxn46
Feel free to write your own play on the subject.  Maybe you can even get one of the religiolous channels to aire it during a pledge drive.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@texascy

Nixon didn't have the opportunity to lie as much as Bush did.  Republicans weren't as organized then as they were under Bush.


wuzyoungoncetoo1
wuzyoungoncetoo1

@bvckvs  "In truth, Bush wasn't burned in effigy by any congressman"


Your illiteracy betrays you.  Let's take a look at the exact allegation to which I responded:


"Nobody ever did that to Bush 43"


Got that?  The claim was "nobody".  Not "no congressman", but "nobody".


Back to school with you.


- "Still, it's pretty cool that we've shamed a few of you freaks into having to make up reasons to hate him, instead of voicing your racism overtly.


What the hell are you babbling about?  Where did I express any hatred for anyone, let alone racial hatred?  It looks like you're not only illiterate, you're pathologically dishonest as well.  Not a good combination, y'know?

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@wuzyoungoncetoo1 @bvckvs

I'm sure that's quite a tantrum - but I didn't bother to read past the first couple of sentences.  I just can't bring myself to take Bush's followers or their tantrums seriously.

 
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