Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Hooded; Or Being Black for Dummies

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 17, 2022

Lambert Tamin and Tarrence J. Taylor
Photo by Carol Rosegg
"There is no set way to be Black or to act Black," quoting one of the characters and setting the tone for Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm's altogether terrific satire Hooded; Or Being Black for Dummies, opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters. The play, a production of the aptly named Undiscovered Works (because this one really does deserve to be discovered by a wide audience), takes us on a smartly crafted journey from cartoonish comedy to realistic drama and beyond, through to a disturbing and powerful ending that borders on surrealism.

The main focus is on two 14-year-old Black youths. One is Marquis (Lambert Tamin), adopted at birth by a white couple and raised in an affluent Maryland suburb. The other is Tru (Tarrence J. Taylor), a streetwise kid from the Baltimore hood. They meet up in a holding cell in the local police station. Tru has been picked up for loitering, and Marquis was caught trespassing in the cemetery after dark, where he was "Trayvoning" (sadly, a real thing; look it up) while hanging out with his white school friends Hunter (Zachary Desmond) and Fielder (Henry James Eden). Marquis thinks it was just a lucky break that his white pals managed to escape the notice of the police when he was arrested; Tru is skeptical.

Into the picture steps Marquis's white mom Debra (Tjša Ferme), armed with legal papers and absolutely sure of herself as she reads the riot act to the Black police officer (Mia Y. Anderson), demanding that her son be released immediately. For good measure, she also decides to spring Tru, thrilled that Marquis has found someone who can serve as a role model for being Black. Never mind that the soft-spoken and genteel Marquis is hesitant; Debra is determined that her son pick up some of Tru's "street sass and moxie." Tru himself warms to the idea, and over the course of the play he becomes a kind of spirit guide to Marquis, going so far as to create for him a manuscript ("Being Black for Dummies"), with a long list of things his mentee needs to understand.

Meanwhile, back at Achievement Heights Preparatory Academy, we meet up with Hunter and Fielder, along with a trio of self-and-selfie-obsessed classmates: Prairie (played by Ms. Ferme); Meadow (Maddie Small); and Clementine (Emma Nadine Onasch), who has a crush on Marquis. (The feeling is mutual; who says satire can't have its sweet side?) All of these characters interact in various ways throughout the evening, and one of the playwright's many strengths here is how he has managed to capture this age group in all of their foolishness and bravado at a time in their lives when they are simultaneously naïve and eager to spread their wings. Not always the best combination, as we learn.

Hooded; Or Being Black for Dummies has much to convey over the course of two hours, which includes an intermission. In addition to the interwoven plot strands involving the teenage characters, Mr. Chisholm, the playwright, manages to find commonality between the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and rapper Tupac Shakur. He also comes up with what might be the best metaphor ever, concerning a Russian wolfhound and its prey.

Stereotypes abound, but they are used to make their points without any of it becoming overbearing or preachy. And all of the performances, under George Anthony Richardson's direction, are just right. Thumbs up, too, to Tara Higgins, whose set design is the very model of creating stage verisimilitude out of the skimpiest of raw materials. There have been quite a few plays this season, both on and off Broadway, examining race in America. Hooded; Or Being Black for Dummies stands up to the best of them.

Hooded; Or Being Black for Dummies
Through July 3, 2022
Undiscovered Works
59E59 Theaters, Theater C, 59 East 59th Street
Tickets online and current performance schedule: