PLAYWRIGHT DAVID ALEX DARES TO CHALLENGE INGRAINED AMERICAN RACIST BELIEFS

 

Racism is America’s embarrassment.  To this day, no matter how technologically advanced we are, how wealthy we are and how many opportunities we have to advance as a society, we are still largely ignorant when it comes to race relations.  We may think that we have evolved as a country but every year equal opportunity and lawsuits are filed and won all the time over instances of discrimination.  Inside our hearts, deep in the tissues and fibers of our beings, we have a lot of work to do before we are flushed of racist angst.  One way is through art, music, and of course, theater.  Through theater, interaction on stage that touches us in a way we may not be able to articulate yet burn to discuss.  Playwright David Alex is all about communication, particularly the needs of people who have trouble speaking for themselves.  With his latest masterpiece, N, performed at the Greenhouse Theatre with GLP Productions, directed by TaRon Patton, he creates the much needed dialogue that works to join people at the soul, as they realize that their humanity is as necessary as oxygen and transcends any color, emotional issues, past history or preconceived notions.  N proves that the need for human relationship goes beyond our social contrivances and comes from a deeper well that we have no control over. 

 

N employs three characters.  The first is Mrs. Page (Stacie Doublin).  She is a 70-year-old African American widow who is independent and financially savvy.  She is financial adviser to many of her friends.  She lives in a beautiful home (designed by Grant Sabin), a place she has filled with a lot of life and memories and she keeps the place meticulously neat and clean.  But her son will not rest until she has someone living with her who can help her around the house.  She sometimes has falls and he’s frantic that she won’t get help in time.  He places an ad and Eddy (Ryan Smetana), a white guy and struggling actor answers.  Eddy is happy to help, but Mrs. Page is not happy to have him in the house.  Not necessarily because he is white though, more because he is forced on her. 

 

Eddy has his own struggles too.  He’s been given the big break an actor always dreams of, a role that will put him on the map.  But when he reads the script, he finds that the dialogue contains the “N” word.  If he has to say it, it will burn in his throat.  If he refuses, he’s out of a job and who knows if he’ll ever get a break like this again. 

 

He’s not doing well with Mrs. Page.  She bangs a Chinese gong every time their conversation veers away from what she wants to focus on, and she keeps calling her son and telling him that she can manage by herself.  Eddy’s good friend (Reginald Hemphill), also African American, tries to explain to Eddy that they are different.  African Americans and privileged white people, even the best of friends, see the world in a different way.  Yet despite how set she is in her ways and what she thinks of having a live-in caregiver, when she sees that Eddy is struggling with something, she gets him to open up about the play he’s working on and she gives him a surprising bit of advice.  They never completely heal the scars left by centuries of inequality, belief in white supremacy and segregation, but they do, for a brief bit, rise above the rift made by years of oppression and extend their humanity and healing powers to each other.  Without thinking, their higher selves emerge and they come to each other’s aid – one human being to another.  Be sure and bring the tissues for this one!  It’s a deluge of catharsis.  N is performed by a superb cast and directed with lamb-like gentleness.   It is particularly timely and a brilliant start to the holiday season where we celebrate and hope to create good will toward our fellow men(women, no make that people!). 

 

N runs through November 17 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue.  Tickets are $25 and are available at greenhousetheater.org or by phoning 773-404-7336. 

Review by Ruth Smerling