Illusion Theater/Pillsbury House Theatre
There are artists willing to dig deeper into the issues. Young playwright Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. mines the African-American experience in Same Difference. It's a messy evening, packed with a flurry of ideas and observations that often explode right off the stage. In Same Difference, we meet two young college students - Jahmal dresses conservatively, wants to rise in the world of business and wishes to leave his poor background behind. Anthony decks himself out in oversized Fubu fashions and gold chains, has no idea what he wants for the future and also wants to hide his past - in Anthony's case, one that includes adoption at age 12 by a pair of gay men.
The two roommates butt heads from the moment they meet and, contrary to the proscribed clichés, continue to do so until the end of the show and never quite become friends. In their conversations, Jahmal and Anthony tackle issues of perception, "fitting in," the nature of black culture and the use of language (including liberal use throughout the "N" word). Outside of the dorm room, we see challenges both face - from Jahmal's difficult integration into the all-white office where he has an internship to Anthony's troubles with his unusual adoptive parents.
Roberson cuts a wide swath of topics and emotions here. At times, it all threatens to spiral out of control - the show, which premiered last year at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, still needs a more razor-like focus and a cleaner story - yet what Roberson has to say is so compelling it tosses aside any of those quibbles. Both Darien Johnson as Jahmal and Jermaine Small as Anthony give complex and nuanced performances that wrench just about everything out of them by the end of the show's 90 minutes. All of these issues and emotions, along with steady work from director Anton Jones and creative advisor James A. Williams, makes Same Difference a play that lingers in the mind long after the final bows and one that explores issues that should not be tossed aside.
Same Difference runs through February 17 at the Illusion Theater and Feb. 20 through March 1 at the Pillsbury House Theatre. For tickets, directions to the theaters and more information, call or visit 612-339-4944 or illusiontheater.org (the Illusion); 612-825-0459 or www.puc-mn.org (Pillsbury House).