It is impossible — even, perhaps, silly — to try to discuss Fonseca Theatre Company‘s world premiere production of Rachel Lynett’s “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You, too, August Wilson)” without acknowledging the theatrical blankness we are emerging from and the theatrical Blackness (or lack thereof) that has come to the forefront in the last year and a half.
It also seems disingenuous to pretend that the physical context of this production — and the audience itself — weren’t factors in my overall experience on opening night.
(And aren’t we tired of reviews that pretend objectivity anyway?)
What I experienced wasn’t just a play. It was an event that included joyfully spotted and greeted friends in the audience before the show. It incorporated the sounds of kids joyfully shooting hoops in the park just across the driveway from the outdoor Fonseca Theatre space.
It included the range of hues of the audience, each digesting the work through their own experiences. It included seeing the play’s director standing nearby watching the show come together for an audience for the first time.
In that Friday night confluence, “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You, too, August Wilson)” came across as a welcome, thoughtful, often rich, neve dull way for Indy audience to return to witnessing and basking in professional theater.
So what exactly is it?
Here’s Fonseca Theatre’s description of the play:
Set in the fictional world of a post-second Civil War, Bronx Bay, an all-black state (and neighborhood) is established in order to protect “blackness.” It’s a utopia but enforcing utopia proves to be tricky when it comes to defining who is Black and who isn’t.
That’s accurate, but only to a point.
Lynett is demonstrably not interested in following traditional theatrical rules (hence the title). She doesn’t break those rules just by demolishing the fourth wall — at Fonseca’s outdoor space, there are no walls anyway. She also upends characters, halts the action for commentary, and, at one point, throws out all that has come before.
In doing so, she seems to be urging us to get past the specifics of character and plot to confront everything we’ve experienced of Black lives on stage. The juicy world building defined by that marketing line above may be helpful in drawing audiences, but, for Lynett, it’s ephemeral, wiped away when she no longer has use for it.
That doesn’t mean the play, directed by Jamaal McCray, is only interested in ideas and not characters. In spite of the fact that the narratives are abandoned, character moments still register as both unexpected and true. In a world where many contemporary plays allow the audience to get ahead of them, Lynett’s people aren’t predictable. She doesn’t paint them as at ends of the good-to-bad spectrum and she doesn’t lock them into a brief description. None are elevated to “main” or demoted to “secondary.” There’s richness here that almost — almost — made me want to see each of the worlds she created fleshed out into a more traditional pair of plays.
But that’s not her agenda.
Instead, she’s out to dismantle those structures and I’m all for that as well.
Many of the devices she uses are in line with a long tradition of self-aware, deconstructionist theater. Some work better than others. On opening night, the appealing if occasionally hesitant cast (Latrice Young, Aniqua Chatman, Chandra Lynch, Chinyelu Mwaafrika and Josiah McCruiston — all of whom I look forward to seeing more of on stage), delivered the goods with a fire that seemed designed to singe but not burn.
And once she’s effectively destroyed what she has created, Lynett builds something on top of that rubble. Something significant.
I’m sometimes resistant to overt message plays. But I’m learning that sometimes my resistance is rooted in privilege, history, naivety , and assumption. There’s an important message here. And I believe those who see this play will carry it with them, especially as they see other productions.
In a time of theatrical reckoning, here’s to a season of equally satisfying and challenging theater experiences. And kudos to the theaters that face these challenges with such grace and teeth and talent.
COVID-note: Masks were requested, although some in the audience did not wear them during the performance. Seats were separated by less than 6 feet. The intermission restroom line was spaced and supervised. The cast and staff wore masks throughout.
Program note: I get it. Traditional printed programs — even a folded sheet of paper — can be costly, wasteful and time consuming to create. But I still prefer them to getting a QR code for online access. Reading an actor or behind-the-scenes artist’s bio is, for me, a significant pleasure. And having kept the program of just about every show I’m seen in my life, these non-program e-programs leave a gap.
Call out to arts writers: In an earlier post, I noted the absence of arts writers of color, specifically in Central Indiana and offered this space to amplify such voices. That offer still stands. If you are interested in sharing their critical analysis here on this or other plays, I’d love to discuss the possibility of sharing your insight here. I wish it was a paying market. Unfortunately, it’s not. But if you are interested, drop a comment.