Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play uses overlapping scenes and shifts in time to tell the story of Ray, a wealthy "numbers" man who helps his rich clients get richer, and his wife Roz, who is a teacher at a school in a somewhat dangerous part of town that is over 70% African American. It's also the story of Shatique, a black woman Ray strikes up a friendship with on a city bus where he is the only white man, surrounded by almost all minority women. I won't reveal why he is on that bus, what happens with Ray and his wife, and much about the friendship he forms with Shatique, except to say that Graham has crafted a story infused with intrigue and abundant truthand a refreshing dose of politically incorrectness.
Graham's characters are brutally honest in the way they talk about race and racism. All are trying to improve upon their lives, though that can mean very different things: a young white couple is given a better future for a very small price, while a black woman has to work and save to find a way out of her horrible apartment in a bad part of townshe is also given the chance for a better life that comes with its own share of hard choices. Graham shows us how good intentions can have bad results and how the choices one makes can have both positive and negative aspects. While the work may suffer a bit from the shift in tone once some facts are revealed and the play changes from a talkative drama about white privilege and race to one with a suspenseful undertone, it is still a rewarding and thoughtful study of race.
Director Christopher Haines has found a talented cast to breathe life into these three-dimensional characters. He is also incredibly effective in staging the piece so the scenes that overlap are seamless. His set design and Elizabeth Broeder's sound effects are simple yet effective in creating the various locations of the play.
Matthew Cary instills Ray with a deep sense of conviction, while Victoria Stokes makes her Valley debut in a powerhouse performance as Shatique. Kim LaVelle is a firecracker as Roz, the woman who seems to always be up for a conversational debate about race. Christian Boden and Hayla Stewart are fine in slightly underwritten roles as Christopher, the surrogate son of Ray and Roz, and his wife, Molly.
I realize this is a review by a white male critic of a play written by a white male in a production directed by a white man that focuses on race, so you can take those disclaimers however you wish, but please know that this work is thought provoking and doesn't paint the white characters all as racists and the play's one black character as a saint. It made me think, and challenged my views as I saw parts of myself in each of the characters, even Shatique. You may be somewhat offended by what Graham has to say, or feel uncomfortable in possibly seeing aspects of yourselves in the characters he has written, but you'll also most likely be forced to really think about the modern reality of racism.
iTheatre Collaborative's White Guy on the Bus, through September 22, 2018, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E Monroe St., Phoenix AZ. Information for this show and upcoming productions can be found at www.itheatreaz.org.
Written by Bruce Graham