Curious Theatre play is thought-provoking

`White Guy on a Bus' makes some uncomfortable points

Posted 5/26/16

Shatique is riding a city bus and clipping coupons as she goes — coupons that will go to her mother, who is caring for her son in a safer neighborhood in New Jersey, where she visits once a week. Ray, a prosperous white businessman, sits next to …

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Curious Theatre play is thought-provoking

`White Guy on a Bus' makes some uncomfortable points

Posted

Shatique is riding a city bus and clipping coupons as she goes — coupons that will go to her mother, who is caring for her son in a safer neighborhood in New Jersey, where she visits once a week. Ray, a prosperous white businessman, sits next to her, chatting as though they had met before.

Bruce Graham's multi-faceted look at racial disparities we see every day in our society — “White Guy on a Bus,” at Denver's Curious Theatre — leaves an audience thinking and talking when it's time to head home. A layered stage takes us for rides on a bus toward the state prison where Shatique's brother is serving a life sentence and elsewhere.

Jada Suzanne Dixon's character, Shatique, was inspired in part by women whom playwright Bruce Graham met as he took the Rikers Island bus (the one that goes to New York City's main jail) and talked with passengers and guards about the visits and life situations. She is going to school, working and trying to stay connected with her family — and stressed. “Why are you on this bus?” she asks Ray — he's the only white person on board on several trips.

Another stage level on Michael Duran's clever set places us in the comfortable suburban home of Roz (Dee Covington) and Ray (Sam Gregory). She teaches in an inner-city school, but leaves for home while it's still daylight. He wonders why another Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, rather than an American one? Roz is outspoken to the point of being brutal and the dialogue gets heated and pointed throughout the play for assorted reasons as stories develop. “Conversation is a contact sport for Roz,” Sam tells his sensitive daughter-in-law Molly.

Ray also is able to find out facts about anyone — and does — through a private investigator used in his work. “I'm a numbers guy,” he says proudly — but he's also restless and thinking they should sell everything and move along, while she is devoted to her career.

A third area suggests the apartment of Ray's son, Christopher (Andy Waldschmidt) and his wife Molly (Rachel Bouchard), who choose to live in the city and would be classified as “academic liberals.” (They choose the city, that is, until she becomes pregnant and fears for a little child's welfare there.) Christopher is completing his doctoral dissertation on “Male African-American Images in Television Advertising” (what qualities should they have?) and is getting input from black colleagues that he has no right to that topic. Does he?

Shatique's walk-up apartment is high in a corner. Director Chip Walton moves his cast through varied scenes with skill, and lighting and background music help carry the contemporary tale.

Graham's well-crafted dialogue carries the story, interconnecting the characters and stories as tensions build. Veteran actors Dixon, Gregory and Covington build conflict, contrasting with the less-experienced young couple.

Where might truth lie? Is there any one truth?

This is a timely new play, in its third outing at Curious Theatre as part of a National New Play roll-out, intended to give a new work “legs.” It should hit a nerve in cities across the nation, although some may find it rough.

If you go


“White Guy on a Bus,” by Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham, plays through June 24 at Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., Denver. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Wednesday, June 22; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets start at $18: curioustheatre.org, 303-623-0524, or at the box office.

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