The concept of African-Americans yearning for a machine that would turn them white sounds offensive to modern ears, but the subject was ripe for satire back in 1931 when black writer George Schuyler penned the comic novel, Black No More.
Now, in a co-production with MN's Guthrie Theatre (which commissioned the piece and produced it in March), Washington DC's Arena Stage will present Syl Jones' zany adaptation of Schuyler's satire, running May 1-June 7 and opening May 8.
During the Great Depression, a black physician invents the "E-race-olator," guaranteed "to turn even the darkest colored man white as a sheet!" Not only does Max use the machine, he tries to marry a Southern belle -- and lead a Klan-like race organization.
Said Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling of the play, "It provokes us to laughter as it forces us to re-examine our views of race."
Tazewell Thompson directs the comedy, which is co-produced in association with elood Theatre. Says outgoing Arena artistic director Douglas Wager, Black No More is precisely the kind of play the theatre needs today, with its refreshing, no-holds-barred comedy and its insistence that we check our racial stereotypes at the door... I welcome its daffy ambition as a large-scale, social-science-fiction satire, aimed squarely at...color consciousness and racial prejudice in America." The DC mounting will have largely the same cast as the MN production, featuring Christopher Bloch, Allen Hamilton, Emil Herrera, Shawn Judge, Isabell Monk, Omari Shakir, Gregory Smith, Rosalie Tenseth, Wendell Wright, Steven Dawn, David Marks; and NY actors Patricia Ben Peterson, Gregory Simmons and Todd Anthony-Jackson.
Designing the show are Fabian Obispo (sound), Donald Eastman (set), Gabriel Barry (costumes) and Robert Wierzel (lighting).
Playwright Syl Jones has written more than 30 plays, including The Brotherhood, Rosa's Children and Rescuing Little Roundhead, a memoir of his childhood.
For tickets ($24-$45) and information on Black No More at Arena Stage's Fichandler space call (202) 488-3300. Audiences hoping to discuss the issues raised by the play can catch a free pre-show panel, May 6, featuring author Jones, director Thompson and artistic director Wager.
-- By David Lefkowitz