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He Says: The Public’s White Noise at High Volume

He Says: The Public’s White Noise at High Volume

The first explanation of his man’s place in the world is an important and powerful schema to understand, and one that elicits a tremendous amount of intense internalized questioning from The Public Theater audience where Suza-Lori Parks’s new play, White Noise is being presented with full force. Given within an arm chair moment by the devastatingly good Daveed Diggs (Broadway’s Hamilton, Netflix’s “..Kimmy Schmidt“), Leo wants us to know the structure he lives within; to understand, for one, his illogical childhood fear, told to him casually one day when he was far too young, that the sun is going to die one day and from that moment on, his ability to sleep has been taken away from him, along with his sense of security and well-being.  Luckily, he’s been part of a tight social community; a loving one with three others: Misha, played by the intense Sheria Irving (Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet); Ralph, played by the brave Thomas Sadoski (Broadway’s Other Desert Cities); and Dawn, portrayed by the talented Zoë Winters (RTC’s The Last Match). All four are exceptional in their formulations, each orchestrating a complicated and connected vantage point to the world and complex racial trauma that might be waiting around the corner. They are each given their perspecitve to share, most brilliantly throughout, but more importantly, they are there for one another, and although their coupling is somewhat convoluted, the characters all seem to understand what it means for them all to go to their communal happy place, as friends, partners in love and crime, or teammates in competitive bowling. The unity is clear, even when the authentic impulses are complex and disorganized, but through a “sheer force of will” this piece hits harder to take in comfortably and emotionally deeper than expected with every ball thrown, focusing in on, not the pins, but the arrows of freedom seen in the middle of history and lanes of structural inequality, forever intertwining slavery and genocide with the opposing principles of America’s creationism.

White NoiseBy Susan-Lori Parks Directed By Oskar Eustis
Zoë Winters, Thomas Sadoski, Daveed Diggs, and Sheria Irving. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Parks has lined up her approach inside a biblical 40-day thing, making her approach utilizing a string theory-inspired construction, where the complicated subject of freedom will be uncoiled and curved. “If you really think about it, it’s nerve wreaking“, this idea that is presented and followed through by Leo that one fateful night, where strikes are considered a win, and a well funded friend could become the owner of property like we haven’t seen lately, and a form of protection for Leo against the harms of racist humanity on the dangerously patrolled streets of modern NYC (and beyond). As directed with an unflinching eye for clarity and authenticity, Oskar Eustis (Shakespeare in the Park’s Twelfth Night) focuses on the fear and kinship within the disconcerting discomfort of what Leo has asked for. “Sleep on it” he is told. “I don’t sleep” he answers, clearly stating his desperation and need.

White NoiseThe Public
Thomas Sadoski and Daveed Diggs. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Who is owned by whom and how? Can a father own a son through his finances? Can a man own another who asks for and wants it? This three-plus hour play dares to dive into the uncomfortable mess of internalized hatred and racism, and the panicked feeling of being angry at and frightened by the world, just not simply at the one who pushes one down with unforeseen intensity and wise organization. There are terribly uncomfortable amendments to the contract, foretelling a faltering future of one soul and than another. But let the games begin, Bro, they say. There is dread and trouble on a flash card that fateful night that one slipped and came loose, and the understanding or idea that the only way out is through, Mr. Ralph. This uncompromising idea of punishment collars and the feeling of being protected and safe gets harnessed onto Leo by playwright Parks (Topdog/Underdog), and even as we flinch, we watch, glued to our seats, unknowing whether this gamble is going to go down into the gutter or give Leo the strike he needs. “Somehow they know I’m yours” is as complicated a statement as Misha’s “on my show I play black” because she knows that the “Ask a Black” framework is more marketable, and in someway safer. Her monologue, as is the case with each one of the four impeccable actors, is everything plus more, and as the days tick forward, written with chalk strikes on a prison wall, the facts line up like pins waiting to be bowled down.

White NoiseBy Susan-Lori Parks Directed By Oskar Eustis
Zoë Winters (foreground). Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

On a stark but solid stage designed with a wise nod to the Spot by Clint Ramos (2ST/Broadway’s Torch Song), with direct and telling lighting by Zavier Pierce (Arena Stage’s Smart People), terribly exacting bold-print costuming by Toni-Leslie James (Broadway’s Come From Away), strong projection design by Lucy MacKinnon (Broadway’s Lifespan of a Fact), and solid sound design by Dan Moses Schreier (Broadway’s The Iceman Cometh), the feelings are being felt, not just being thought. This special project of Leo’s attacks and dissects the stupid divisive shift of slave mentality and white privilege. White Noise drowns out the chatter from beyond, forcing us to pay close attention to all four dilemmas and play along with the experiment, hoping that Leo and company find the rest and peace they all need, and that we find the answers to the questions asked within ourselves.  It’s a powerful descent into complex ideology and racist thought, forcing all four of them (and us) to look inside at our preconceived notions of security and freedom. As we count down to the perfect game and the end of the 40-day trial, the anxiety of the audience is palpable and electric, much like this smart strong play. Art has been discovered within White Noise, buzzing throughout the evening. It’s a raw rare treat to be challenged at this high level of wise wit and clarity, and for that, I am truly grateful.

White Noise1164rR
Daveed Diggs and Sheria Irving in the world premiere of White Noise, written by Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Oskar Eustis, running at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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