Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

White Guy on the Bus
Gablestage
Review by Jeffrey Bruce


Actors: Tom Wahl and Rita Joe
Photo by George Schiavone
Are you a racist? Really? Are you sure? Could you be? Bruce Graham's disturbing 2015 play White Guy on the Bus has just opened in a thrilling production at Gablestage, and I cannot stop thinking about it and about what it all means. Racism has been an unfortunate fact of life, but never has it seemed as prominent as it does in today's political climate.

Mr. Graham has brought out the dormant prejudice in so many by bringing to the fore the clashing liberal/conservative sides of an "everyman's" personality. His despair is driven by an unbearable personal tragedy that must not be divulged. Suffice it to say that when it was revealed, I was shocked and surprised. This is only the first of such revelations and to divulge them would be doing Mr. Graham, as well as future audiences, a disservice.

Ray is married to the intelligent, caustic Roz (Mia Matthews) a schoolteacher in an upscale white neighborhood in Main Line Philadelphia. They are close friends with Christopher (Ryan Didato) and his new young wife Molly (Whitney Grace.) A successful, self-described, "numbers man," we first see Ray riding a bus in an "iffy" part of town, next to Shatique (Rita Joe), a striving, African-American studying for her nursing degree. The sight of them is questionable: this handsome, immaculately suited, whiter than white middle-aged man, and the somewhat scruffier, inner-city woman. Why is he riding the bus? We find out, soon enough and the reason is devastating.

Michael Leeds has done original, split-second direction for this play that travels back and forth in real time. While the concept sounds confusing, theatrically it is perfect.

Technically, things are top notch. While the set, by Lyle Baskin, is not as ornate and individualized as Gablestage's usually are, it is more than functional. Present day costumes by Ellis Tillman and Jeff Quinn's lighting are top-notch. Master sound designer Matt Corey's work could not be bettered.

The lead actors, cast by Mr. Leeds, run an emotional roller coaster for two hours and they are a marvel. Thom Wahl, one of SoFla's most prolific actors, has never been better than he is as Ray. The lightning-quick mood swings are disturbing at worst and necessary at best. Rita Joe, as the main catalyst, Shatique, is more than his equal. She lets us see the classy, intelligent woman beneath the ghetto fa├žade. She will do anything for her 9-year-old son LaShon, who lives with his grandmother—or will she?

Mia Matthews and Ryan DIdato, work wonders with what are, in essence, ancillary characters. Matthews, who can extract humor from nothing, has a glamorous Roz Russell/Eve Arden ability to make her dialogue snap when there's no snap readily apparent. Didato never seems to be acting. His naturalism works counterpoint to the horrors happening around him and is the perfect balance. While Whitney Grace has experience in musical theatre, she needs more time to mine the depths of a very difficult character. Much of her dialogue is lost due to the dropping of endings of sentences and her lack of dramatic acting experience is amplified by the power of the other four experienced cast members. I saw the second performance and I am certain she will grow in strength and confidence.

At one point, the ever-direct Roz asks the idealistic Molly to think, hypothetically, about where she would like her car to break down. Either in Main Line or North Philly. Main Line (white) or North Philly (black.) Molly answers Main Line and has great difficulty explaining why, to which Roz retorts "you're a racist!" I cannot get that exchange out of my head—and that's a good thing.

White Guy on the Bus runs through September 9th, 2018, at Gablestage, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables FL. For tickets, please call 305-445-1119 or visit www.gablestage.org


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