“The Whites” Face a Blackout

The Whites cast

Photo of “The Whites” cast by Jonathan Slaff

I admit the play “The Whites” featured at the Theater for the New City at 155 First Avenue, NYC, had begun by the time I arrived. I missed about 10 minutes of it but a friend filled me in. As I observed the play and listened to the characters of white people pretending to be black or was it black people becoming white, I was totally confused.

I thought a white guy must have written this play because all the stereotypes are in it. Names like Rasheeda and Ujamma Man, made me wonder if Aunt Jamammy was waiting in the wings. I know the play is about whites experiencing what black folks go through but come on now! To make matters even more ridiculous there is not a single person of color to be had within the play to defend against this mockery. Black people are diverse and are not cutout characters written into a TV script. Many Black people are professionals. Not all Black people hang out on street corners, smoking weed and jobless. In fact most aren’t…so why weren’t they represented? If you are going to make whites black than cover the gamut of black life. If the play is meant to teach whites, than teach them, not expose them to the same ole rhetoric they have come to believe is true.  

Then I learned the playwright was black. Where William Electric Black was going with his play of talking white heads entitled, “The Whites,” I have no idea. After a while I was even feeling insulted thinking “so this is his entire scope of Black people!!!”  Few intelligent characters just ex cons, street bums, fast talkers, troubled youth and oh yeah…a kid that loved basketball. Big Surprise!!!! You know how black folks while being white love to dribble that ball. The mention of burning a church was thrown in for good measure. Yikes! Don’t forget the suffering black mother desperate for her children to succeed. Well yeah!  Don’t all mothers want that. There’s the civic minded sister that wants all guns turned in.  The bright spot– finally someone got The Whites to turn in their guns!!!  Of course her brother wants a pro basketball career. No mention, at least that I heard about, of Black Lives mattering or in this case White Lives being Black mattering.

My advice for this play is go back to the drawing board and write something worthy of representing black people for white people to enact. Something worthy of discussion rather than a sleepy nod and stiffled yawn.

I suppose the one attempt to talk about intelligence was via the mentioning of a Harvard education by a would be filmmaker whose film making career was all talk. The play was endless talk about sweet potato pie, and schools whites weren’t allowed to attend as black people or was it the reverse? The unfairness of being white in a Black society. Had the play addressed real issues and had in-depth dialogue about the issues that affect black people and others of color. Had it explored the great divide between the races in a meaningful way, than there would have been something to sink one’s teeth into. There would have been a learning experience and finally an uncovering of what could have turned out to be a real discovery of truth. However, as far as the production“The Whites” goes, it’s pure trite.

Perhaps the play was meant to make white people think about how people of color feel under their oppression, belittlement and lack of human kindness by trading places but it fell flat. The play had no substance. One has no desire to know the characters let alone sympathize with them. They came off banal and pointless. The production in my eyes was just reduced to a bunch of punch lines, street talking and attempts at black walking but got lost along the way.

I will spare the cast the embarrassment of even mentioning their names. Just because I found the play lacking, I won’t tell people not to go see it because they have the right to their own opinion.

I am not given to be cruel because I know how difficult it is to reach inside oneself and write. It is not easy. But as this writer left the theater all this reviewer could think was…what the heck was that! I came to the play with great anticipation only to be very disappointed. To paraphrase Shakespeare I’d say, “The Whites” that runs from Nov. 7-24, is filled with sound and fury while signifying nothing.

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