Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

White Guy on the Bus
iTheatre Collaborative
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Harlowe, The Antipodes, The Wild Party, and All Shook Up

Victoria Stokes and Matthew Cary
Photo Courtesy of Christopher Haines / iTheatre Collaborative
For the past decade or more, political correctness has been the key directive to ensure that members of minorities are appropriately represented in a wide range of areas, like media, commercials, works of art, and even the way we talk. Bruce Graham's recent drama White Guy on the Bus attempts to demonstrate that this way of thinking can also be harmful in how the media can inaccurately portray minorities, which could result in false hope, and how our belief that the issue of racism is getting better, combined with the negative aspects of "white privilege" and the neverending fear of others who are different, results in plenty of damage. iTheatre Collaborative's well-directed production of Graham's challenging and intriguing play features a gifted cast who allow the audience to see that racism is most likely something we will never solve and that almost everyone has both positive and negative aspects.

The play uses overlapping scenes and shifts in time to tell the story of Ray, a wealthy "numbers" man who helps his rich clients get richer, and his wife Roz, who is a teacher at a school in a somewhat dangerous part of town that is over 70% African American. It's also the story of Shatique, a black woman Ray strikes up a friendship with on a city bus where he is the only white man, surrounded by almost all minority women. I won't reveal why he is on that bus, what happens with Ray and his wife, and much about the friendship he forms with Shatique, except to say that Graham has crafted a story infused with intrigue and abundant truth—and a refreshing dose of politically incorrectness.

Graham's characters are brutally honest in the way they talk about race and racism. All are trying to improve upon their lives, though that can mean very different things: a young white couple is given a better future for a very small price, while a black woman has to work and save to find a way out of her horrible apartment in a bad part of town—she is also given the chance for a better life that comes with its own share of hard choices. Graham shows us how good intentions can have bad results and how the choices one makes can have both positive and negative aspects. While the work may suffer a bit from the shift in tone once some facts are revealed and the play changes from a talkative drama about white privilege and race to one with a suspenseful undertone, it is still a rewarding and thoughtful study of race.

Director Christopher Haines has found a talented cast to breathe life into these three-dimensional characters. He is also incredibly effective in staging the piece so the scenes that overlap are seamless. His set design and Elizabeth Broeder's sound effects are simple yet effective in creating the various locations of the play.

Matthew Cary instills Ray with a deep sense of conviction, while Victoria Stokes makes her Valley debut in a powerhouse performance as Shatique. Kim LaVelle is a firecracker as Roz, the woman who seems to always be up for a conversational debate about race. Christian Boden and Hayla Stewart are fine in slightly underwritten roles as Christopher, the surrogate son of Ray and Roz, and his wife, Molly.

I realize this is a review by a white male critic of a play written by a white male in a production directed by a white man that focuses on race, so you can take those disclaimers however you wish, but please know that this work is thought provoking and doesn't paint the white characters all as racists and the play's one black character as a saint. It made me think, and challenged my views as I saw parts of myself in each of the characters, even Shatique. You may be somewhat offended by what Graham has to say, or feel uncomfortable in possibly seeing aspects of yourselves in the characters he has written, but you'll also most likely be forced to really think about the modern reality of racism.

iTheatre Collaborative's White Guy on the Bus, through September 22, 2018, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E Monroe St., Phoenix AZ. Information for this show and upcoming productions can be found at

Written by Bruce Graham
Director / Production Design: Christopher Haines
Sound Design: Elizabeth Broeder

Ray: Matthew Cary
Roz: Kim LaVelle
Christopher: Christian Boden
Molly: Hayla Stewart
Shatique: Victoria Stokes

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