'The Submission': A Play About Race's Sound and Fury

Playwright Jeff Talbott has jumped into the free-for-all about race with his fists flying and his tongue wagging, says theater blogger Janice Simpson.

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A controversial play about a white playwright who enters a competition pretending to be black and wins a drama award is full of fire and fury, says Janice Simpson, who blogs about the New York theater scene.

Danny, a gay white guy, writes a gritty drama about a poor black family but submits it to a prestigious theater festival under the pseudonym Shaleeha G'ntamobi. He believes it sounds like a black name and that the judges will consider the play more authentic and worthy of doing if they think it's been written by an African-American woman. 

The ruse works. The play is scheduled for production but, of course, Danny can't show up for the rehearsals so he hires Emilie, a black actress, to impersonate the imaginary Shaleeha. Emilie's supposed to relay Danny's feelings about any necessary changes to the director and actors but, as dramaturgy would have it, she begins to have her own ideas about what the play should and shouldn't say about black people. The bickering between them escalates. Inevitably, the angriest words get uttered. 

The audience gasped when those unsayable words were said at the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I saw but it's the stuff that gets said during the rest of the play that's actually more provocative. Because Talbott says a lot of things that most people -- black, white, Asian, Latino -- have thought at one time or another but are usually careful not to say aloud, at least not in racially mixed company. 

So it's kind of refreshing to hear Danny sound off about his annoyance with theater companies that try to fulfill their diversity obligations by scheduling plays by African-Americans during February's Black History month whether the plays are good or not and then to have Emilie fire back that it pisses her off that black plays are rarely done any other time no matter how good they are.

The play gets added buzz because Rutina Wesley, the tortured soul in the HBO series True Blood, stars as the actress hired to play the fictional Shaleeha. 

Read the entire review on Broadway and Me, Simpson's blog.

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