Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Winter's Tale
What constitutes cultural appropriation? When does comparing the respective grievances of two minority populations turn into "Oppression Olympics"? These incendiary issues are at the heart of The Submission, receiving its Washington regional premiere at Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbsand it's interesting enough, if not revelatory.
Jeff Talbott's compact play considers issues of race and class through the eyes of Danny (Frank DeJulio), a young white gay man and an aspiring playwright. He's finally written a play that has been accepted by a prestigious festival for new works; the problem is that it's a story about a desperate African-American mother and son trying to build a better lifesomething he knows nothing about firsthand. To avoid questions about the play's "authenticity," he submits it under the fabricated name of an African-American woman, then hires an actress (Kellee Knighten Hough) to serve as his public stand-in.
Although Emilie, the actress, praises the play for "getting it right" before she discovers the playwright's deception, it's difficult to know just how good Danny's play might be. (He tells her he got the idea to write it after a group of African-American teens on the subway insulted his shoes. Say what?)
When Danny attempts to prove his cultural bona fides to Emilie, saying he has been "ghettoized" as a gay (middle-class white) man, she lets him know she has little patience with a person who doesn't appreciate the privileges he has. The downward progression to Emilie's dismissive view of gay relationships and Danny's anger at "those people" ends exactly where the audience thinks it will.
The other characters are Pete (Ari Butler), Danny's buttoned-up partner, and Trevor (Craig Dolezel), who finds his loyalties divided between Danny and Emilie.
Director David Elliott keeps things flowing in the intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab. Scenic designer Bill Clarke and lighting designer Chris Dallos have devised a clever set that evokes Danny and Pete's apartment, hotel rooms, and a succession of chain coffee shops with minimal changes of scenery.
Olney Theatre Center