EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a review from the Teen Critics Program presented by Cry Havoc Theater Company, a group that does original devised and verbatim work with high school students. TheaterJones is partnering on the project, and the best reviews from each performance viewed will be published on TheaterJones. Other reviews will be published on the Cry Havoc site. You can read more about the program here, in our special section devoted to this project.
The following review, which has been edited by TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry, was written by Dorian Villalba, a junior at Coppell High School. The show is Funny, You Don't Act Like a Negro, an original play by M. Denise Lee having its world premiere at Theatre Three. You can read our TheaterJones interview with Lee here.
Dallas — Prejudice is rooted in ignorance and lack of information. Starting a conversation is the first step to educating more people on the current issues and Funny, You Don’t Act Like a Negro at Theatre Three is exactly that — a conversation. The interactive comedic drama explores issues of prejudice across nationality, race, and sexual orientation.
Directed by Christie Vela, the play is interspersed with short, personal recounts of prejudice including those of the playwright M. Denise Lee, director Vela, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, a church pastor, an LGBT person, and others (the play’s title comes from one of the subjects, a black woman repeating what a white woman said to her after they had an interaction). Lee, who has written her first play with this show, thoughtfully tackles the multiple perspectives of African American, Hispanic, and white families through a diverse neighborhood in which they all live and interact.
The play includes engaging activities such as a game show, audience interaction, and movement of the actors through the audience in this in-the-round space (scenic design is by Jeffrey Schmidt). It is important to mention that while amusing, the play does feature more mature themes including a shooting, so leaving the kids with a sitter for this one might be a good idea.
The humor and irony present the ideas portrayed throughout the show in a nonpolitical and digestible way. The over-dramatization of the story plots, corny sound bites, playful music and larger
It begins with a Hispanic family (Liza Marie Gonzalez and David Lugo) moving into a primarily white neighborhood; and they are originally believed to be Muslim by both the white (Jessica D. Turner and Gregory Lush) and African-American (Jazzay Jabbar and Gerald Taylor II) families. The story revolves around the plot of the neighborhood and transfers perspectives of situations to the other races' perspectives. The play dives into deeper issues rooted within the races, as well as internalized racism.
Each of the families ha a youngdaughter (played by Juliana Gamino, Alexis Muturi, and Summer Stern) that have interactions with each other throughout and react to their parents’ prejudice and negative conversations about the other races at home. They all sing a powerful song with lyric “I heard them say…” together at the playground about the prejudices they hear in their homes and about their innate longing to become friends with the girls of other races. The girls bring an innocent voice to the show, that we don’t see from the adults and is needed to share the importance of the youth and to expose their power for the future of society.
Funny, You Don’t Act Like a Negro is a moving and though-provoking production that will leave you shocked, on the verge of tears, and dying of laughter. More importantly, there is an alternative perspective of each issue that all audiences can understand and relate to, for the betterment of our own communities and society as a whole.