The Pressgang Theatre production of White Heat, playing as part of Summerworks 2019, is disturbing, powerful, and could be pulled from today’s headlines. Playwright Graham Isador based the play on real events, which makes it even more ominous.
Makambe Simamba plays Alice Kennings, a journalist who wrote an opinion piece suggesting that it was okay to punch a Nazi in the face. I’ll state my bias here; I don’t know that I could do it, but I’d applaud anyone who could.
Tim Walker plays The Captain, a man who hosts White Heat, an alt-right podcast.
The action moves back and forth between Alice and The Captain. They aren’t together in any scenes until the end.
I found Walker both frightening and abhorrent as The Captain. We see him jump on Alice’s piece and use it as a base for a podcast; misquoting it and twisting the meaning. The volume of his voice, the continual anger, the representation of ‘his people’ as the victims, his racists views, his belief that people are racist against whites, that nothing is his fault, that he isn’t exhorting his listeners to violence against Alice, all of it seems so real.
Simamba plays Alice perfectly. She can’t really believe it when The Captain’s followers start threatening her on social media. Initially, she thinks she can fight back by answering each comment and tweet and then can’t believe it when that just escalates things. Sometimes she’s determined, sometimes funny, sometimes scared. I could feel her sadness when she said that she had stopped answering her mother’s calls. She couldn’t bear listening to the fear in her mother’s voice.
When Alice and The Captain finally meet, they are absolutely true to their beliefs. The Captain is rigid and unyielding, still insisting he is the victim and that he bears no responsibility for anything that has transpired. He believes completely in everything he says. Alice has her questions and comments prepared. She feels some empathy for him; after all, he’s a single father raising a daughter. She doesn’t want to be impolite. She’s afraid.
Both actors are amazing; these can’t be easy roles. Director Jill Harper has done a terrific job of keeping the action moving in what is essentially two people taking turns delivering monologues. Her use of space – in an awkward space – is very effective. Isador’s script is powerful and true to life.
For me, it confirmed that I’m that ‘small L’ liberal who feels empathy and doesn’t want to seem rude. Enough of that.
I may not be ready to punch anyone in the face, but I am ready to start taking more action. I am ready to stop listening to my alt-right neighbour and to stop thinking I could ever use logic to change their mind. Too bad if they think I’m rude. I don’t have to explain anything when I walk away. And part of my crusade? It’s time to talk to people about voting; especially people who don’t usually vote.
You should go see White Heat.
- Sunday August 11th 8:30pm – 9:45pm
- Monday August 12th 9:30pm – 10:45pm
- Wednesday August 14th 6:00pm – 7:30pm
Warnings: Coarse language and themes of racial violence
photo by Graham Isador