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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Well Intentioned White People
By Macey Levin
Taking place in "A hip liberal town in a red state in the United States, present day," Cass (Myxoldia Tyler), a black female college professor of Comparative American History focusing on the Black Diaspora at an unnamed university employing few non-white personnel, has had her car keyed with the "N-word." Her roommate and former lover Viv (Victoria Frings), an activist for non-profit organizations, in particular LGBTs, insists that she contact the police. Cass would rather not make an issue to avoid drawing attention to herself, especially since she is going to be considered for tenure in the next few days. Word gets out and Dean West (Andrea Cirie) insists that Cass organize and speak at a "Diversity Day" rally which becomes a "Unity Week" event bringing recognition to the university and herself. The reluctant Cass agrees.
A transgender-Puerto Rican confidant Parker (Samy El-Noury) attempts to convince Cass that she should be doing this for herself, not the school. A white student, Mara (Cathryn Wake,) who has organized rallies to support ethnic concordance, barges in to Cass's office and after antagonizing her is told to leave. She later files a complaint accusing the professor of discrimination. As she works on the "Unity" event more and more threatening activities occur driving Cass to greatr distraction. The only people in whom she can confide are Viv and Parker who do not support her decision to do nothing.
Lynett's plays explore society's attitudes with the intent to urge audiences to realize divisions and then to work to change the prejudices that prevent societal harmony. In this play the non-white characters – Cass and Parker – voice their resentment of those who unconsciously adopt a condescending manner or who express pseudo-concerns in the name of diversity. At one point Parker shouts, "I hate whites!" There are speeches that argue the problems people of color face twenty-four hours a day while simply trying to live a life. Several scenes, however, are redundant in some of the arguments posed, but that does not mitigate the conditions that exist. Lynett allows her characters to speak from lifelong experience and not merely indulge in polemics.
The entire cast is strong. Tyler's Cass is torn as she wends her way through the angst that her friends and antagonists impose upon her. At first, she minimizes the problems so that she may protect her job. But as the various incidents build she becomes more self-protective and fearful. Yet, her natural sense of humor continually breaks through to relieve her tensions and to disarm her adversaries. It is a sensitively layered performance. Viv is a staunch friend, but she finds it difficult to be an ally and to suffer the criticism Cass throws at her.
Ms. Fring's handing of her emotional reactions is finely tuned as is that of Mr. el-Noury who has similar confrontations but with both women. Andrea Cirie's Dean West is the typical ladder-climber who looks out for number one at the expense of others. She is smugly sincere. Ms. Wake's Mara is one of those know-it-all students who will probably grow into Dean West since she is as manipulative as the dean.
Director Tiffany Nichols Greene has staged the play fluidly as the various scenes have smooth transitions from one to the next sometimes overlapping in dialogue and movement. This could be distracting, but these instances complement each other. Character definitions are strong as each has his/her own personality and perspective. As the tension builds Ms. Greene has her cast take a pause to either elevate or minimize the moment.
The unit set, designed by Adam Rigg, serves several purposes: a living room, a dining room, Cass's office, a classroom, each having its own identity together with the effective lighting design by Scott Pinkney. Lux Haac's costumes help to identify the role and personality of the various characters.
This is a strong and difficult play in a cohesive and trenchant production. The ending is an obligatory scene, but this well-crafted play needs a more definitive conclusion..
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Well-Intentioned White People by Rachel Lynett
Directed by Tiffany Nichols Greene
Cast: Myxolydia Tyler (Cass) Victoria Frings (Viv) Samy el-Noury (Parker) Andrea Cirie (Dean West) Cathryn Wake (Mara)
Scenic Design: Adam Rigg
Costume Design: Lux Haac
Lighting Design: Scott Pinkney
Sound Design: Joel Abbott
Stage Manager: Heather Klein
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, Pittsfield, MA
Opening: 8/16/2018; Closing: 9/8/2018
Reviewed by Maceey Levin at August 22, 2018 performance
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