Initially produced in 1964, “Dutchman” by Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones), was a 50-minute powder keg, fusing racial and sexual issues in a bold theatrical/poetic form. It has since become a touchstone in arts and culture history and anyone with a serious interest in theater should make it a point to the rare revival of it courtesy of Monument Theatre Company, presenting it at Indy Convergence through Feb. 23.
In it, an apple-munching white woman, who may or may not be named Lula (Dani Gibbs) encounters a suited black man, Clay (Jamaal McCray), in a subway car. That’s all I’ll say, even though Monument’s website gives away far more, including the ending. That lack of spoiler concern would seem to indicate that what happens narratively isn’t the highest priority for the production team. Perhaps its an assumption that the material is better known today that it is likely to be for most audiences.
Whatever the case, I’m backing away from those plot details.
I’m also backing away from writing anything resembling a traditional review.
Why? Because I don’t think my perspective on this play and this production is particularly useful or interesting.
“Dutchman” and Monument Theatre Company is a promising indication of progress being made to diversifying theater content and audiences in this city while also providing places for creators of color to develop their craft.
Those efforts would be helped considerably if this work was accompanied by progress in the diversification of voices writing about theater in this city.
Instead of just a few of us white guys writing about theater, I wish Indianapolis could give a megaphone to journalists of color with passion for theater, incentive to share their perspective, and outlets willing to feature their writing.
“Dutchman” is a charged play, one that digs deep beyond realism into the soul of Clay, the seemingly mild man on the subway.
What I want is to hear from young black writers about what this play mans to them now.
I want to hear from older black writers about what this play meant to them when it first caused such a sensation.
I want to be engaged in a discussion about what this play means, to have my assumptions and perceptions challenged, to read praise for what speaks to them and push back on what doesn’t.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that, going forward, I’ll only write about plays with white protagonists. I’ll continue to write about work of all sorts when I feel I have something to add to the conversation.
But I also know that my work and words aren’t enough.
So I’ll put this out there: If a talented, insightful writer of color is interested in sharing their critical analysis here on this or other plays, I’d love to see if we can make that happen. I wish it was a paying market. It’s not.
But given the fact that the local media has abandoned critical commentary, it’s the best I can offer right now.