It’s been disquieting to hear a certain level of weariness creeping into the general dialogue about racism. Headlines covering people of color unfairly detained or even killed may be a near-daily occurrence, but that doesn’t make any individual event less worthy of attention or thoughtful discussion. White Guy on the Bus provides a gripping reminder that behind each incident is a person with hope for the ones they love and a potential for fear of those who are different. Though Bruce Graham wrote the script over two years ago, it is shockingly appropriate for a time of deepening gulfs between people of varying races, socio-economic backgrounds, and opportunities.
The time-shifting plot is beautifully constructed. Each twist that pulls us deeper into the story also jolts us into confronting our own racists thoughts. How many of us make quick judgements about where to sit or walk based on what we feel about a certain neighborhood? Yet how can we deny that while such reputation is based on generalizations and stereotypes, those in turn are based on facts and figures? What happens when we push common ground to the side and focus on differences? It’s hard not to become as unnerved as the characters we are watching, especially if you are white as most of the audience at 59E59 is. It is worth noting that the director is another white man. On the audience hand-out, Bud Martin confesses to being drawn to the play primarily because the story made him uncomfortable.
Two magnetic central performances rivet our attention for the two hour run. Tony nominated for Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Cuccioli once again displays both calm professionalism as well as a more controlling dark side. His non-white seat-mate Shatique is played with strength and grace by Danielle Lenee´, previously nominated for a Barrymore Award for this role. Their supporting cast is a perky Jonathan Silver as devoted like-a-son Christopher, a steady Susan McKey as Ray’s feisty wife Roz and a far weaker Jessica Bedford as Christopher’s righteous wife Molly.
The simple yet clever set is designed by Paul Tat DePoo III and enhanced by Nicholas Hussong’s projections. Together they move us from Ray’s stunning suburban home, to the critical public bus and to points beyond. Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes fit the characters in all meanings of that word and help sell important details of the story.
As a five character one-set piece, White Guy on the Bus is attractive to small theater companies with tight budgets. It has already played Wilmington, Trenton, Denver and Chicago and I imagine it will hit other cities with mixed populations. That it should also spark discussion wherever it lands is exciting. You can grab your chance to participate in the conversation by catching it at 59E59 through April 16. For tickets and information visit http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=252.