In 2008 after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America, commentators openly asked whether we had entered the era of a post-racial America. While we’re still far from being a post-racial society we have made huge strides since the 1960s when Dutchman, lemonTree creations’ SummerWorks play is set.
The script was written by African-American playwright Amiri Baraka in 1964 at the beginning of the civil rights movement. It describes an encounter between a young African-American man, Clay (Peyson Rock) and a deceptive and seductive young white woman, Lula (Sascha Cole) on a New York city bus.
To really understand the play you have to consider the context in which it was written; the still racially-segregated, pre-civil rights era America. The interactions between Clay, by all accounts a fine, upstanding man and Lula, a pernicious, conniving temptress, would likely have been pretty scandalous at the time.
Baraka uses the unsettling power dynamic between the characters as an allegory for race relations in America; Lula has the power to manipulate and toy with Clay for her own unknown yet nefarious reasons.
At times I felt as though, Cole went a little over the top with her character, almost to the point where Lula is blown up to Disney-villain proportions but this may very well have been a deliberate choice by director Sabryn Rock. The characterization is appropriate to the intent of the script and it works as part of the allegory.
The staging of the show inside the bus allows for a proximity to the performance that really heightens the sense of dramatic tension. A note about the seating, though; the best seats are in the back of the bus as most of the action takes place in the seats near the rear wheel wells and audience members seated at the front of the bus will need to turn around to watch most of the performance.
Though I didn’t find it an easy play to sit through I thought it was fascinating. I also thought it was an interesting choice to produce a script from the ‘60s to not only to illustrate how far we’ve come as a society but also how some things have yet to change. I think Dutchman is well worth watching.
- Dutchman plays at Venue J: The BUS (Parking Lot, 15A, Ossington Avenue)
- Show times: August 10, 9:00PM; August 11, 3:00 & 9:00PM; August 12, 3:00 & 9:00PM*; August 13, 3:00 & 9:00PM*; August 14, 3:00 & 9:00PM; August 15, 3:00 & 9:00PM; August 16, 3:00* & 9:00PM; August 17, 3:00* & 11:00PM
- *Talkback on the bus following the indicated performance.
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://ticketwise.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) Mon. – Sun. 12PM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows
– Photo of Sascha Cole and Peyon Rock by Brian Telzerow