Bulldog Ensemble Theater has another winner with James Ijames’ White, which plays through Sunday, June 9th, at ” The Fruit,” a.k.a. the Durham Fruit and Produce Co., under the direction of JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell.
Gus (played by Jordan Clifton) is a gay, white, male painter whose work has been excluded from an art show, because Jane (A.C. Donohue), the gallery’s curator, does not feel that he fits the preferred demographic. His solution: he hires a black woman to pose as the painter of his work. Hilarity ensues; but it is not all fun-and-games, as the play explores issues about art and identity, honesty and power, and privilege and exclusion. Ijames’ script is rife with irony and witty dialogue, and Halloway-Burrell’s direction ensures that it flows smoothly from issue to issue as well as from scene to scene.
Be aware: the show starts several minutes before it actually starts, so arrive at least 15 minutes early. And this is a show that will stick with you long after it is over.
Jordan Clifton gets laughs as Gus, because he is exactly what we would expect. Stereotype? Gus is somewhat of a stereotype at the beginning of the play, but Clifton very soon imbues the character with plenty of individuality and depth.
Raely Qiu portrays Gus’s partner, Tanner, who is affectionate and supportive. Qui scores points with his delivery of such lines as “Verbs make reading so much more enjoyable.”
A.C. Donohue’s Jane is a force of nature. Determined that her gallery will no longer have “an abundance of chicken sausage” (“white meat”), she has embarked on “the first chapter in changing [its] face,” so it will “reflect America.”
Donohue’s Jane is almost orgasmic as she contemplates various details of her anticipated success. And it is no surprise that most of our memories of this character include a champagne glass (containing varying levels of liquid). Worth noting: Donohue is a master of the art of facial contortion, so be prepared to be impressed with Jane’s expressions.
Monét Noelle Marshall herself is a force of nature. In addition to playing the role of Vanessa, Marshall takes the stage (practically usurps it!) when she enters as “St. Diana” (a.k.a. “Ross da Boss”) — a vision that Gus has in which she identifies herself as “the black woman you have nurtured inside you.”
As Vanessa, Marshall shows quite a range. Vanessa must create different “versions” of herself as she morphs into Balkonaé Townsend, the “painter” who is put forth as the creator of Gus’s art, which she labels “Bad Bitch Expressionism.”
Lighting (designed by Lisa Suzanne Turner) enhances the various moods of the piece as well as the shifts from the real to the surreal.
Costume designer Pamela Ford had a field day with the characters’ wardrobes (especially that of Vanessa/Diana/Balkonaé). Enough said!
The use of projections on a screen in a key scene is a nice touch.
Memorable Phrases (some funny, others thought-provoking) include:
“You think of me as a dude?” “You’re my favorite gay.” “Racial tourism.” “What about my marginalization?” “Listen to the real black woman, not the one dancing around in your head.” “You’re a puddle … wet and muddy and something people avoid.”
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
The in-the-round set was functional and did afford us the pleasure of “sharing the experience” with a plethora of other theatergoers, but we could not help but wonder if we had missed nuances and details when the actors performed with their backs to our section.
The Bottom Line:
Bulldog Ensemble Theater’s presentation of White is entertaining, exciting, and thought provoking — definitely cream-of-the-crop material. We recommend it.
SECOND OPINION: May 30th Cary, NC RDU on Stage review by Kim Jackson: https://rduonstage.com/2019/05/30/review-humor-and-bite-make-bulldogs-production-of-white-a-provocative-thrill-ride/; May 29th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4.5 stars out of 5): https://indyweek.com/culture/stage/bulldog-ensemble-theater-review-white/; May 26th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9448; and May 24th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell and actress Monét Noelle Marshall, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: https://www.wunc.org/post/white-play-explores-intersection-art-and-identity.
The Bulldog Ensemble Theater presents WHITE at 7:30 p.m. May 30, 8 p.m. May 31 and June 1, 2 p.m. June 2, 7:30 p.m. June 6, 8 p.m. June 7 and 8, and 2 p.m. June 9 at The Fruit (Durham Fruit & Produce Co.), 305 S. Dillard St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $15 weeknight ($13 seniors 65+ and veterans) and $20 weekend ($18 seniors 65+ and veterans), except $10 for people under 35.
BOX OFFICE: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?actions=4&p=1.
SHOW: https://www.bulldogdurham.org/white and https://www.facebook.com/events/2171257669617301/.
PRESENTER: https://www.bulldogdurham.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/BulldogEnsembleTheater/.
VENUE: http://www.durhamfruit.com/, https://www.facebook.com/305sdillardst/, https://twitter.com/durhamfruit, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPMaKqpy0ZLWi_yXODprZGQ.
DIRECTIONS/MAP (bottom of page): http://www.durhamfruit.com/.
White (2017 Norristown, PA dark comedy): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5742 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and https://newplayexchange.org/users/472/james-ijames (New Play Exchange).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
James Ijames (Bessemer City, NC-born Philadelphia, PA playwright): http://www.jamesijames.com/ (official website), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3331139/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ijames (Wikipedia).
JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell (Durham, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/jmkastar (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.