FUNNY, YOU DON’T ACT LIKE A NEGROBy M. Denise Lee
Directed by Christie Vela
Assistant Director – Whitney LaTrice Coulter
Scenic Design – Jeffrey Schmidt
Stage Manager – Laura Berrios
Sound Design – Claudia V. Jenkins
Lighting Design – Jon Felt
Assistant Lighting Design – Lindsay Silva
Props Design – Cindy Ernst-Godinez
Costume Design – Yvonne Johnson
Assistant Costume Design – Elise Sottile
Projection Design – Sid Curtis
Playwrighting Consultant – Jonathan Norton
Production Assistant – Claudia V. Jenkins
Child Supervisor – Adelaide Willert
Running Crew – Theresa Kellar
Woman 1 – Jazzay Jabbar
Woman 2 – Jessica D. Turner*
Woman 3 – Liza Marie Gonzalez
Man 1 – Gerald Taylor II**
Man 2 – Gregory Lush*
Man 3 – David Lugo*
Child 1 – Alexis Muturi**
Child 2 – Summer Stern**
Child 3 – Juliana Gamino
Reviewed Performance: 2/24/2020
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The playwright, local artistic talent M. Denise Lee, explains in her Notes that she “toyed with writing this for over 15 years.” The title is explained in the opening video projection of Professor Sherrill Boyd’s account of an unfortunate conversation. She was complimented on a professional success but, shockingly, the encounter ended with the titular statement made to her. Thereafter, the play is interspersed with short videos describing other true-life instances of discrimination based predominantly on race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. For example, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk describes being treated as a valet (he appears to be the only one who exacted a satisfying revenge).
This smart play cycles through vignettes in a variety of other forms, coalescing around a theme highly relevant in our times: how we can end up living in silos and pre-judging other people.
There is an ongoing gag where three different protestors for intolerance follow a nihilistic, heavily-hooded figure; their ultimate destination is not the haven for intolerance they anticipated. It’s very funny. Here and elsewhere, a versatile array of costumes facilitates the character and setting changes.
David Lugo exhibits both the glamourous good looks of a stereotypical television host and a quick wit to pull off extemporaneous joking in a fun faux gameshow segment titled, “Are they racist or just assholes?” Yes, the audience gets to participate!
The scenic design incorporates a floor pattern of concentric circles, which dovetails with the functional and aesthetically beautiful use of spotlights, particularly in the play scenes with three child actors. The scenic and projection designs ingeniously accommodate the numerous scene changes. Particularly impressive is the use of video to cue changes in the central set, which is composed of a home entrance, front window, dining room, and living room. The set changes depending on which of three different families is at home in the scene.
The three families, and the playtime of their children, are a central recurring storyline. One family is African-American, one is Caucasian, and one is Hispanic, and each have a young daughter. The three families live in the same neighborhood. The adults’ conversations expose their negative attitudes regarding others perceived to be different from them, explore preconceived notions, and include specific fears arising from or caused by bigotry.
The children do not participate in these conversations, but they are quietly listening. The three daughters are brought together in a series of hand-clapping game sequences with powerful lyrics. “I heard them say that” is part of one refrain to a poignant, moving chant sequence. The daughters are played by Alexis Muturi, Summer Stern, and Juliana Gamino. Their chanting is in perfect sync and they each bring a charming, innocent stage presence to the production.
The patriarch of the Hispanic family (Lugo) spars with his wife (a talented Liza Marie Gonzalez) over the wisdom of their move to a “white” neighborhood. Miguel (so named by the wife; “call me Mike” according to him) has a job as the new Baptist minister. More than once, Miguel/Mike requests that his wife speak English, to which she ultimately retorts in frustration, “If you were a proper Mexican you would know Spanish.” The play explores a cultural and socio-economic divide within this family.
Jazzay Jabbar and Gerald Taylor II are delightfully funny, and enjoy strong chemistry, as the African American couple. He’s just glad they’re not the Muslim family new to the neighborhood. Things turn serious when a bank robbery makes the news. The writing is whip smart as the action shifts among the three families, displaying both the very different reactions to crime and the unfair disparity in news coverage.
Playwright Lee is not complaining about “micro” aggressions. The Caucasian parents are particularly clueless, not to mention appalling.
A scene portraying a fourth family features the versatile and talented Jessica D. Turner as a grandmother who infuses seemingly random prejudice into what should have been an ordinary conversation. As the granddaughter, Stern is impressively articulate, and her comic frustration earns laughs.
In a vignette of a fifth family, a poignant performance by the talented Gregory Lush and thoroughly sympathetic Gamino reveals a father and daughter grappling with the loss of their wife/mother to deportation and the ignorance of the community. The touching scene has a surprise ending.
Astute, rapid-fire video projections are integral to a segment that starts as a twitter fight and ends with personal human interactions (both positive and then very negative). The twitter handles help make a heated debate about Colin Kaepernick hilariously funny. The segment evolves to make an important point about the fundamental difference between tweeting and conversing. Here and elsewhere, the intelligent writing and spot-on performances imbue this production with “ah-ha” (i.e., the lightbulb goes on) moments.
Theatre Three Artistic Director Jeffrey Schmidt explained that this production is part of Theatre Three’s commitment to producing the works of our wonderful local playwrights. I could not agree more. I highly recommend this production. It is relevant, beautifully staged and acted, masterfully fast-paced, and above all entertaining.
February 20 – March 15, 2020, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.; with March 4 matinee at 2:00 p.m. and March 14 matinee at 2:30 p.m.
2800 Routh Street in the Quadrangle
For information and Tickets call 214 871-3300 or go to https://www.theatre3dallas.com/shows-tickets/.