There is nothing funny about bigotry and racism. Or is there?
Currently running at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center is …Of Color, four short plays that were spawned in Plan-B Theatre ’s Artists of Color Writing Workshop. The pieces were written by Mexican playwright Iris Salazar, Persian/Japanese playwright Bijan Hosseini, Latina playwright Olivia Custodio, and African-American playwright Darryl Stamp. It’s a virtual U.N. of talented writers … of color.
…Of Color kicks off with Iris Salazar’s “American Pride,” who says she “went through a torrent of emotions as I watched Donald Trump attack groups of people and brag about his sexual predatory behavior during his campaign but I naively believed that we would never allow this man to preside over our country.” It would appear that Salazar channeled her “disappointment, anger, and sadness” over Trump’s election into “American Pride.”
The short play takes place in the studio of a right-wing talk radio station: 101.1 “Great Again,” whose key message pinballs between “Make America great again” and “Make America white again.” Trump himself (running for a THIRD term as the Royal POTUS) is in the studio along with a fawning female fan – a well-to-do, respected, and also racist/homophobic/right-wing Christian lady, based by Salazar on a real acquaintance of Mike Pence. Before meeting Trump in the studio, she signs a bevy of legal releases, including one allowing the Royal POTUS to “feel you up if he feels so inclined to grab you.” “I am a married woman,” she replies, “but if the Royal POTUS absolutely must, I won’t make a fuss.”
It’s hard for me to “find the funny” in Donald Trump, but actor Brien Keith, as the Royal POTUS, provides a send-up that spawns belly laughs. The fawning female, played by Yolanda Stange, is a carbon copy of the right-wing women on FOX NEWS and those whom the President surrounds himself with. Keith and Stange, by the way, are African American actors and seeing a black Trump is both hilarious and disorienting. Also present in the radio studio is a handcuffed, “illegal” played by Jillian Joy – largely ignored by Trump – as he incessantly Tweets on his phone while she begs in Spanish to be reunited with her hijos – children. And then there’s the right-wing radio host DJ KC Masters, wearing a “F*CK YOUR SAFE SPACE” T-shirt, performed by Carlos Nobleza Posas.
I won’t spoil the ending, but as with most of the plays in … Of Color, violence and guns are involved, mayhem ensues, and a light is shone on contemporary American schisms in “American Pride.”
While “American Pride” is loud and in-your-face, Bijan Hosseini’s “The Frailest Thing” is an introspective one-man monologue, stupendously performed by actor Bryan Kido. It’s one of the most powerful plays I’ve seen Plan-B stage – a philosophical piece about the horrors of war and the type of mass murder that occurred at Hiroshima, quietly told by a Japanese soldier (Kido).
It’s also a reflection on matters that are very relevant today, such as What is truth? What are facts? Ultimately, “The Frailest Thing” deals with the nature of reality itself. It’s a play that I think the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre would have appreciated – one that poses the paradox that “It’s not what actually happens that matters, it’s what people tell themselves or are told. It’s not some objective truth; it’s simply what they believe that matters … if you believe that any of it matters at all.” Fake news, anyone?
First-time playwright Bijan Hosseini speaks of his writing as “a process that bled me open and made me look at other processes inside: What’s in my control and what’s not? What do I want to hang on to, and what do I need.” It’s not so much that he answers those questions in “The Frailest Thing,” but that he dramatically invites the audience to join him in his search for the answers to essential questions crucial in today’s world.
“Writing a play is weird. Seriously weird,” says Olivia Custodio, the creator of “Drivers License, Please.” And she’s penned a pretty weird play – one that deftly moves from outright shock to shockingly funny. The action – and I do mean action – takes plays at Torpid, a car rental agency: “We Make Your Smile Go the Extra Mile.”
A redneck misogynist “Michael” (Carlos Nobleza Posas) walks into the rental office and immediately aims a non-stop, profane monologue filled with aggressive, sexist, racist opinions and language at a rental agent, Danielle, played by Erika Ovuoba. Turns out Michael has had two accidents in one week and three DUIs, “and now you’re asking me to rent you a car …” says Danielle. “Well, I sure as shit didn’t swing by for a sandwich unless you’re planning on wrapping your legs around my head” he replies. After an awkward silence, Michael concludes, “I knew you lesbians couldn’t take jokes. Can’t take a joke; can’t take a dick!”
Michael’s sexist and racist screed is interrupted by Danielle’s co-worker and soon-to-be ex-lover played with perfect comedic timing (and a voice that sounds to me amazingly like Steve Buscemi) by Bryan Kido. There’s more violence, more guns, more mayhem, and ultimately, the type of revenge that many of us would love to extract from the loudmouthed, insensitive a-holes we encounter in increasingly large numbers these days.
“Roar,” the finale for … Of Color, is playwright Darryl Stamp’s emotionally moving look into the life of an African American family, the relationship between an alcoholic father Gerald (Brien Keith), his often neglected comedian daughter Jilly (Erika Ovuoba), and the mother, Darla (Yolanda Stange) who tries her best to be the glue that holds the family together … until she doesn’t.
“Roar,” like most of the other … Of Color plays directed wonderfully by Jerry Rapier, is moving and maddening, sad and sarcastic, violent and loving, ugly and beautiful, profane and high-minded. They hold a mirror to our current country and culture, which is nothing if not one of color.