A Raisin in the Salad

Tonight I went to see A Raisin in the Salad. It was a reading, in support of The Fire This Time Festival, which if you’ve been following along, you know I already think pretty highly of.

Here’s a few thoughts I had:

Actors are brave.

Kevin R. Free is brave. He wrote this play that starts out with alot of big laughs. I mean it’s called A Raisin in the Salad: Black Plays for White People; that’s already funny. I was watching it wondering if my laughing at certain parts and not others made me a stereotypical white person or a white person who was in on the joke or perhaps just thought I was in on the joke.

I decided, during intermission, when some stereotypical white intellectual feminists (yes, that is a stereotype, one which probably applies to me) who were sitting behind me starting talking theory, that everyone is annoying anyway so I would just not worry about where I fit, or didn’t fit, or wanted to fit. But by the time intermission rolled around, I was already a little bit in awe of this writer, who had the fucking nerve to come out here and play a character based on a fictionalized version of himself only to finally abandon the character and be exactly who he actually is, right there in front of everyone, with his own words in his mouth. This artist was standing there engaging with his art and creating it right there in front of us. That’s pretty fucking brave.

This isn’t a review, but since I’m talking about the play, let me just mention that the actors gave it. They went for it, and they went hard. Christopher Burris, the director, who you know I already adore,  directed and performed the role of Blackboy, and he fucking killed it on both counts. Tracey Conyer Lee and Samantha Debicki were devastating as Blackgirl and Whitegirl, respectively, and Christopher Burke and Sarah Thigpen were more than a little off-putting as Whiteboy and Whitelady, which I think was at least part of the idea, and it honestly took me a minute to be sure that Pun Bandhu was doing the script as written and not just riffing from his own consciousness about the straight-up lack of Asian talent on American stages.*

But what I really want to talk about is Kevin R. Free. Kevin R. Free wrote a play. Just when I thought, out there in the audience, that I had the hang of this play, that I knew what was happening, he changed the rules. At a certain point I realized that the rules were not rules, the rules were Kevin, just like that one Star Trek episode on the holodeck (Warf and Alexander and Troi are stuck in a Western, you know the one) where everyone turns into Data. In this play everyone turns into Kevin.

KRF recreates the creative process and then lives it out. Why do I have to live within the boundaries of your definitions? He asks. Why can’t I just be who I am? But then he rewrites all the definitions and suddenly you belong in his dictionary instead of the other way around.

I don’t want to be in any dictionary, not even Kevin’s, and the clarity of that feeling made me realize that I’d been in on the joke all along, and maybe it’s not even funny after all– it’s as serious as it gets.

*Can we please just cast more Asian people? I mean it’s enough already. Pun Bandhu, who played the Special Guest Announcer, brought this again to my attention.

Casting white people in all the roles isn’t just blank, it’s white. You can really cast anyone as anything. If a role doesn’t specify an ethnicity that doesn’t mean it’s white. You can cast non-white actors in roles that don’t even have anything to do with being non-white.

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