Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 25 - September 1, 2010
A RAISIN IN THE SALAD: BLACK
PLAYS FOR WHITE PEOPLE
Written by Kevin R. Free
Directed by Christopher Burris
1 hour, 25 minutes (performance art)
For info about the show, visit
Raisin’ Ridicules Stereotypes…And, Expectations
BY TRAV S.D.
Patrons of “A Raisin in the Salad: Black Plays for White People” are advised to keep an open mind. Not only is there use of the “N word” and full frontal male nudity, but also because much would seem to depend on a previous familiarity with playwright Kevin R. Free’s life and career (a familiarity which this reviewer did not previously possess). Much that seemed to convulse the rest of the audience whizzed right past my head. It is to the production’s credit that it eventually unclenched and smoothed out my uncomprehending scowl, but only just.
The premise of the play (or anti-play) owes a lot to Pirandello. An actor portraying Kevin R. Free (Lelund Durond Thompson) breezes in like a TV talk show host and proclaims his valediction to several stereotyped characters who have served him well: Blackboy (Christopher Burris, who is also the show’s director), Blackgirl (Jennifer Nikki Kidwell), Whitelady (Charlotte Cohn), Whiteboy (Nicholas Job) and Whitegirl (Samantha Debicki).
We follow them through a couple of dozen fragmentary absurdist black-out sketches, many of which have a non-sequitur quality, and are accompanied by ironic easel-titles like “Devils in America” and “Die, Nasty. Die.” Stereotypes and expectations are ridiculed to a degree that is unpleasant. Free is an equal opportunity humiliator; many’s the time you will squirm at someone else’s discomfort if not your own.
Ultimately, I came to respect the play…probably more than the creators do. The play takes a lot of chances, not just socio-politically but formally. It reminds me a lot of early off-off-Broadway. To my mind, it should be done in a black box, where audience members can sit close and be as weirded out by the thought-provoking events as they are amused by them. In the current production, on a proscenium stage, and played strictly for laughs, there is a very real danger that the audience will simply laugh off Free’s serious underlying message. And that’s not funny.