By Tulis McCall
White Guy On The Bus has played all over the country. Los Angele, Illinois, Washington DC, New Jersey. The question is WHY?
And the answer is that Bruce Graham has taken on the subject of race in a way that makes your head spin. Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a kind of boring way. There are two spaces in this play. One is white and one is not. Ray and Roz (Robert Cuccioli and Susan McKey) live in a nice white suburb of Philadelphia. They have not a care in the world except their own personal dissatisfactions with life. His is First World all the way. He is a financial advisor making rich people richer. She teaches in an inner city school where there is a running bet on how many times the kids can call her “bitch” in a given time period. Her kids are disadvantaged not only racially, but in every other way imaginable.
We time travel a lot in this play. We also zoom and forth between the lovely white world that cares, of course, about the race question, and an actual black person living at the intersection of Hell and Hope. Shatique (Danielle Leneé) is a single mother who has moved her children in with their grandmother to keep them safe while she immerses herself in nursing school. Her other duty is to her brother who is incarcerated. It is on the bus to visit him that she runs into this particular white man on the bus. Ray is a regular traveler on this bus, although the how and why are obscure.
Back in the suburbs we meet Christopher (Jonathan Silver) and Molly (Jessica Bedford), the younger white friends who are newly in love in their first scene, and a bit later on they are extremely pregnant. You see what I mean about the time travel. Christopher was that adopted neighborhood kid so many of us had growing up, except in this case he was kind of an “only child” as his parent’s presence was iffy and Ray and Roz had no kids of their own. Anyway, Christopher, Ray and Roz are as close as can be. Molly on the other hand is not such a good fit. She is self righteous and judgmental about the whole black white thing right up until circumstances shift and she changes her tune in a heartbeat.
To tell more would give away the plot which is inventive and brave. Bruce Graham has come up with a story and an in-your-face relationship between Ray and Shatique that is provocative and brutally honest. Ray swerves off the high road and tumbles down into a very dark chasm where he meets his darker angels. It is a lesson on how close we all are to chaos of the highest order.
The production elements of this show do not measure up to Graham’s intent. The writing is often sophomoric and illogical. The direction is stilted, confining actors to spaces where they seem trapped. This is especially true in the apartment scenes with Ray and Shatique. The performances are uneven, with the relationship between Ray and Roz lacking a much needed credulity.
I admit to being in the minority here because the other audience members were completely engaged. This was evident in the conversations at the intermission, none of which were all polite chatter. There were conversations happening over one another, across the aisle and up and down the staircase. These continued after the curtain call.
Still, the brave questions Grahams raises and his willingness to point out which king has no clothes remain true. And that is why this play is being produced all over the country.
White Guy On The Bus – Written by Bruce Graham; Directed by Bud Martin
Cast: Robert Cuccioli, Danielle Leneé, Jessica Bedford, Susan McKey and Jonathan Silver