By Tulis McCall
I don’t know where to begin.
More than once duing the performance of “White Girl In Danger” by Michael R. Jackson my guest and I looked at one another and said, “What did they just say? I have no idea.” And when we did hear clearly, we were never certain what was going on. The story is all over the place. For the most part I don’t research before I go to the theatre. I want my reaction to be untouched by what others are saying or how the show is being explained. This time I just happened to read a New York Times article and listened to a WNYC interview with Jackson and the director. Even that didn’t help.
Loosely speaking, this is the story of a fictional soap character, Keesha Gibbs (Latoya Edwards), part of the “Blackground” in a soap opera that takes place in a town called Allwhite, whose white characters are all named variations of “White” in their names and the black characters are dellegated to playing every black streotype on the map. Keesha who is promoted through the Allwhite Writer’s story line to “sidekick” which she soon lears is not much of an improvement. She sets out to get her own story-line. This means she has to get the attention of the head writer who is assumed to be a white man. Thereare ups and downs and a lot of sideways movement until ithe big reveal.
When this three-hour (way too long) production finally ended my guest and I were both exhausted. The phrase “rode hard and put away wet” comes to mind. This is another case of John Randolph’s admonition, “You must never blame the actors.” This is an ensemble of crackerjack performers that, along with the team that helps them change costumes over and over again, keeps up a marathon-like pace. I am guessing they are as exhausted as the rest of us.
Most of the audience was enthusiastic in their support, which is one of the great things about theatre. Two people can sit next to one another and have wildly different reactions to a performance.
A little racism, however, goes a long way. In this case Michael R. Jackson went in the exacat opposite direction. And you can’t blame him. People pf color leave their homes every day with a target on their back. Even in little old New York. If you think I am overstating, think again. So I can understand the urge to hammer the subject home.
The problem is that after a certain amount of hammering we stop listening, we stop hearing, we stop taking in the message. Of course this is the exact opposite of what Jackson intended.
If you stick around until the end you will be rewarded with what I call The Big Reveal – a monologue in the very capable hands of James Jackson, Jr. that lifts the veil on the mental, spiritual and emotional journey of a black writer. It is an epic presentation that intimately and intricately explores Jackson’s philosophy. Had we started out with that monologue we all might have been in better shape. Like “Strange Loop” this monologue has a through line, a premise and a path that leads to a location we did not imagine.
Sadly I arrived at this crossroads when I was so tired it was difficult to hear. Too bad all around.
WHITE GIRL IN DANGER by Michael R. Jackson, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
WIITH Liz Lark Brown, Kayla Davion, Latoya Edwards, Jennifer Fouché, Morgan Siobhan Green, Molly Hager, Vincent Jamal Hooper, James Jackson Jr., Tarra Conner Jones, Alyse Alan Louis, Lauren Marcus, and Eric William Morris. LaDonna Burns, Alexis Cofield, Shane Donovan, Ciara Alyse Harris, Jon-Michael Reese, and Natalie Walker round out the cast as understudies.
Scenic Design Adam Rigg, Costume Design Montana Levi Blanco, Lighting Design Jen Schriever, Choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly, Meg Zervoulis as Music Director and Orchestrations are by Lynne Shankel.
The limited engagement is at co-produced by The Vineyard Theatre and and Second Stage Theater and is presented at Second Stage’s Off-Broadway home, the Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street). Tickets HERE