Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Little Wars
The play tells the story of a white, gay, male playwright named Danny who has written a play about a black family who live in the projects. Because several of his earlier plays haven't gotten any traction, and since the play touches upon racial issues in the African-American world, Danny believes the only way it will be taken seriously and get produced is if people believe it was written by a black woman. So he submits the play under the pseudonym Shaleeha G'ntamobi and, once his play gets accepted to be produced by the Humana Festival, one of the premiere new works theatre festivals in the U.S., he decides to hire a black actress named Emilie to pretend to be the author of his play. He thinks that once the play opens he can reveal who the true author is and bask in the glory of his success. Of course, pretty much nothing goes as planned as tensions mount, relationships fray, and the whole situation threatens to blow up in Danny's face.
Talbott has crafted an insightful drama that balances seriousness with moments of humor. He weaves into his play several ongoing themes including the idea that since Danny is gay he believes he can understand what black people have gone through as he is also a member of a minority and he feels his experiences of prejudice are similar. Of course, Emilie takes issue with this since she believes that being gay and being black are two completely different things. Talbott interjects many good points in how Danny speaks about the correlation between the two minorities and the similarity of prejudices that both face, but he also gives Emilie plenty of arguments to make against Danny's views. That is the sign of a good playwright, someone who knows how to accurately and realistically show both sides of an issue.
Also, the fact that Danny is somewhat racist himself and uses some terms and phrases that aren't exactly politically correct adds a whole other element to the play about the genuineness of someone writing a play about a minority that he actually may have prejudices against. Danny also makes comments about actors and actresses of color being honored with Oscars or Tonys for small parts just because they are black. Some of these topics and issues are dealt with and handled better than others, especially one of the major points the play makes, that a good play or other work of art about a minority doesn't necessarily have to be written by someone of that race, which is a valid one.
However, beyond Danny, none of the other characters in the play are very well defined. We know that he met his best friend Trevor in grad school and that his boyfriend Pete is a businessman who doesn't know much about theatre. But we don't really know much else about them. Even worse, we know very little about Emilie except that she is an actress who has had difficulty getting cast, yet Talbott often expects her to fulfill the point in his piece of practically speaking for her entire race several times, which would make more sense and have more relevance if we understood more about her history. The supporting characters are given little to do and the ending seems to need more clarification as it doesn't pack the emotional wallop that a few scenes before it deliver.
Fortunately, Nearly Naked's production has a very good cast and is well directed by Damon Dering. He does a very good job of ensuring his actors create natural portrayals, and his staging and direction of the many confrontations in the play are steeped in reality and, fortunately, never come across as high-pitched screaming matches.
Devon Nickel and A.P. Nuri are Danny and Emilie and deliver nuanced and natural portrayals. Nickel is exceptional in showing how frazzled Danny becomes once the intensity of the situation starts to consume him. Nuri is just as good in showing that Emilie has a voice and isn't just a pawn in Danny's game. The two actors are also completely riveting in the several confrontations their characters have with each other.
Connor Wanless and William Sawyer play Pete, Danny's boyfriend, and Trevor, Danny's best friend. They both do well in delivering a few comical touches and moments of sincerity, which provides a nice balance and contrast to the high energy of the intense scenes between Nickel and Nuri.
Even though I have a few issues with the lack of character details in The Submission, it is a good play that presents a modern view of our ongoing issues of race and bigotry. With a very good cast, Nearly Naked Theatre's production delivers plenty of sides to an issue that is very relevant today and gives you plenty to think about.
Nearly Naked Theatre's The Submission, through July 14th, 2018, at Playhouse on the Park at Central Arts Plaza, 1850 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-254-2151 or at nearlynakedtheatre.org.
Playwright: Jeff Talbott