Saturday, February 16, 2013

REVIEW: Attention Must Be Paid to Serendipity's "In White America" Though Acting Uneven

Editor's Note: The following is more of a commentary than a review, but note that the art we make comes from where our soul resides. As artists (playwrights, directors, actors, etc.) what we feel causes us to express who we are and what we want to share.

Attention Must Be Paid to "In White America" at Serendipity Playhouse. 

This play is proudly presented by Serendipity Playhouse as part of the celebration of African-American History Month. It is a documentary play and all the words spoken are from actual transcripts from the people involved. It covers from pre-Civil War up to the mid-50’s in a story that lasts a little more than an hour. At the end of this presentation, local Black presenters share their stories of growing up in White America.

The play, although powerful, barely scratches the surface of the approximately 100 years that it covers. But the marks that are made are deep and demand from the viewer/listener more investigation to get the complete story. Many familiar names appear including Lincoln, Fredrick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Jefferson, Nat Turner, John Brown, Booker T. Washington, E. B. Dubois, and President Wilson, to name a few. But there are so many unnamed and unheralded, too, that laid the foundation for Freedom.

Through the stories, one will learn and, in learning, change can follow. You many think you know the whole story, but you don’t. Did you know that Africans aboard a slave ship who refused to eat the wormy mush they were fed, sometimes had molten lead poured down their throats? And that many threw themselves overboard preferring to take their chances with the sharks than the bleak future that awaited them in the New World.

And did you know that the Quakers, much to their credit, had instituted a school for black and white students in Connecticut before the Civil War? They discovered that the students got along just fine in this mixed class, it was the parents who objected. Eventually this noble experiment ended when the educators’ homes and school were ransacked. Echoes of the old song from the musical, South Pacific, in which a character sings about a child’s upbringing, “You have to be carefully taught, to hate and to fear….” In other words, there may not be anything inherently prejudiced in our young, so that must be taught by adults.

The stories told are about women’s right, too. President Andrew Johnson finally gave the right to vote to black men, but not women. Of course, the evil KKK was born out of this so even that small step forward was hampered. And, keep in mind, these repressions were done simply because a person’s skin was not white in color. “What fools these mortals be.” 

John Robertson and Ron Munsey in "In White America."
Photo courtesy of Christopher Paradee

About the Production

The acting in this production, as the lighting, is uneven, but the theme of this story is not in the enacting of it, but in the words. And, in that, it is a powerhouse! This play might be best delivered in a Readers Theater format, or possibly in a Church setting, where you would get a type of audience participation, as the opening night crowd seemed to want to interact with the stories being presented.

One audience member asked me after the play, that he sensed he should be feeling guilt as a white person and asked if that made sense. There is no easy answer. Guilt can be a personal and/or a collective journey. What is important is to make changes in your own lives to reflect a better outcome. Maybe then our children will not grow up being taught hatred or anger, but learn tolerance and understanding. Communication is the key which will unlock the door to a better tomorrow. An important document reads, “All men (humans) are created equal….” Any questions?!

This story is important to be heard and digested. If you choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you. 

This production was written by Martin B. Duberman and directed by Bridgett Fahnbullah. The theater is located at 500 Washington St., Vancouver, Wash. This show plays through the month February as follows: February 16, 17, 22, 23, 24; 2 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. – Fridays and Saturdays. Special: 2 p.m. Sunday, February 17 is “Pay What You Will” (tickets available at the door only). 

Tickets: $15 – also available at the door 30 minutes before the performance. Reservations recommended, leave info at 360-834-3588. Reservations recommended. For further information, contact them at or call 360-834-3588.

WARNING: These are raw issues and told in truth from actual events and documents. The 'n' word is used.

Review by Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

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