It may be a new year, but the same old divisions of race and class continue to plague American society. Hoping to shed some light on the guilt and prejudices of the more privileged sector, J.T. Rogers' play, White People, looks at three seemingly typical white Americans, their views, their secrets, and their confessions.
A 1998-99 Best Play nominee by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, White People received a workshop staging at L.A.'s Road Theatre Company. The drama opens its first full, non-profit production Jan. 26 at PA's Philadelphia Theatre Company. Performances began Jan. 21 for a run through Feb. 20 . Gus Reyes directs the piece.
Starring as the pale trio in Rogers' play are Carole Healey, Philip Anglim (a Tony nominee for The Elephant Man) and Robert Sean Leonard. The latter has appeared on the New York stage in Candida, You Never Can Tell and last season's celebrated revival of The Iceman Cometh with Kevin Spacey.
The three characters of White People are a cheerleader-turned housewife, a conservative lawyer and a liberal college professor (Sean Leonard). PTC producing artistic director Sara Garonzik said in a statement that the play looks at "the underlying racial tensions within our multi-cultural society."
Company spokesperson Deborah Fleischman told Playbill On-Line the drama isn't so much controversial as thought provoking. "These issues are in everybody's psyche," she said. "Not to be too negative, but it churns your gut... it's incredibly powerful... These are just normal, everyday people. For example, this lawyer moved to St. Louis to find a safe place, but his son beats up a black couple in the park, and he's bewildered about where that rage came from. The cheerleader's husband can't hold down a job, and her son has encephalitis. Now his care is in hands of an Indian doctor. The professor is a very liberal American history professor whose pregnant wife is beaten up by two black men in the park for no reason. At the same time, he has two outstanding black students in his class, and he's trying to reconcile his feelings." Fleischman added that, though darkly-themed, "the show has "a very hopeful ending. We focus on that hope in our post-show symposia." The Jan. 23 symposium, "American Apartheid," features professors from Bryn Mawr and University of Pennsylvania; the Jan. 30 conference, "Living Together: Streets of Prejudice," features spokespersons from the NAACP and the Jewish Community Relations Council. Playwright Rogers and director Reyes will take part in the Feb. 13 meeting, "American Playwrights in Context." The theatre company is also offering several on line chats with the creative staff of the play. For days and times check PTC's website: www.americantheatreweb.com.
Designing the drama are Michael McGarty (set), Tom Broecker (costumes), Phil Monat (lighting; he's also doing the upcoming Finian's Rainbow) and Eileen Tague (sound).
For tickets and information on Philadelphia Theatre Company's White People at the Plays & Players Theatre call (215) 568-1920.
-- By David Lefkowitz