I'm choosing to think the ban doesn't apply in the case of "Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies," which has one more weekend to run in a Fonseca Theatre Company production at Indy Convergence.
|A stern cop confronts Marquis.|
This white liberal complied with the initial order, then dutifully saw that he'd been played and followed the projected demands instead. Score one for Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm's caustic two-act comedy when it comes to plopping theatergoers into their discomfort zone. That's territory that the production's audiences (four performances remain) have to get used to — and it's not likely to be the same zone for blacks and whites.
|Tru (Joshua Short) has lessons to impart.|
Ben Rose directs a highly committed, mesmerizing cast led by Chinyelu Mwaafrika as Marquis and Joshua Short as Tru. Mara Lefler plays Marquis' suffocatingly well-intentioned mom. The thoroughly acclimated classmates headed for a painful epiphany are played by Patrick Mullen, James Banta, Ivy Moody, and Dani Morey. The playwright toys with conventional high-school attitudes and social friction insightfully. And there's plenty to spur a blend of nervous and carefree laughter.
Light-skinned Marquis is the adopted son of upper-middle-class white parents; Tru comes from a single-mom household in a dicey inner-city neighborhood. Thrown together accidentally, they end up as schoolmates, but Marquis' most crucial education is extracurricular, as Tru works through both the spoken and the written word to bring him around to embracing his essential blackness.
|Tru tries to distinguish among the three preppie friends.|
James Baldwin once summed up America as "a society much given to smashing taboos without thereby managing to be liberated from them," which might well serve as a proof text for "Hooded," almost as much as the handwritten notebook Tru thrusts upon Marquis titled "Being Black for Dummies," after the mass-produced advice-book series. A set of taboos in one culture may be a survival guide in another. Familiarity with them turns out to sustain little hope of liberation, however.
When "Being Black for Dummies" falls into a white boy's hands, things can only go wrong, leading to a denouement in which Marquis' fate is strapped onto him like a straitjacket. Though it's frequently funny, "Hooded" demonstrates that there's no avoiding the serious back story behind Marquis' playful pose earlier of "Trayvoning," sprawled prostrate on the floor with a bottle of sweet tea and a bag of Skittles nearby.
Could the dream of a man with the Christian name of Martin be snuffed out by the murder of a boy surnamed Martin? "Nobody knows my name," runs the prophetic title of the volume of Baldwin essays (from which I've taken the above quote) that I bought as a naive teenager nearly 60 years ago. My high regard for the dust-jacket photo has been enhanced by the experience of "Hooded."
[Production photos by Ben Rose]