Northlight Theatre in Skokie is celebrating 40 years of bringing quality theater to the suburbs. Each season, they select a series of plays that include different elements thus satisfying the needs of all their subscribers and in some cases, the more nonchalant once in a while theater-goer. Their current production, “White Guy on the Bus” is written by Bruce Graham, who brought us last year’s “Stella and Lou”. Don’t let the title fool you! In fact, even the description that they give in some of the newspaper articles may have your mind headed the wrong way down a one way street.
Understand, first of all, that this is a World Premiere, so we are getting to see it from the “git-go”. While the title may have you thinking that this will be a story with some type of reversals on Rosa Park and her story, it is not even close to that. The story does involve racism and delves into the racial and socioeconomic divide that is a part of our world. The time is now, in Philadelphia. As the lights coming up (there is no curtain on this very simple set by John Culbert), we sense that director BJ Jones to open our eyes and ears to the story that Graham is telling. Pay very close attention for the unfolding story to be clear as a bell.
We meet our main character Ray (the always reliable Francis Guinan) and his wife, Roz (Mary Beth Fisher, incredible, once again). Ray is a wealthy businessman.He is White of course, and handles wealthy white folks fortunes and makes their fortunes grow, no matter which way the market goes. Roz, is a teacher. Not just a teacher, but an inner-city teacher, who works in a school where the population is mostly African-American, then Hispanic, then Asian and the smallest percentage is “other”, which includes the White population.
The others we meet are Christopher (deftly handled by Jordan Brown), who they have raised as a son and his wife, Molly (Amanda Drinkall), an upper class socialite who has always had the best of everything. Christopher is working on his Thesis for his Doctorate and the topic he has selected is the use of the African -American in commercials. A very interesting topic indeed and one that will wake you up to some facts of life. Now, let me get to the bus that is in the title, and the rider that Ray befriends on said bus, Shatique (a dynamite performance by Patrese D. McClain). Not wanting to destroy the mystery that Graham and Jones have woven into this production, I will only tell you that Shatique, who is an African-American single mom, is studying to better her life, for her son, who is living with her mother,so he can be in a better school. She has a brother who is in prison and the bus they ride each Saturday, is the one that goes to the prison. I think this where I stop on this topic!
The play, which is two hours with an intermission, deals with the country’s racial identity, and while there are many who feel that we have advanced over the years, the question arises as to, “have we, really?”. While there are many that look at African-Americans and see other than what they really are, there are also African-Americans who are just as biased and racist. The stereotypes that have been depicted for many ages are exposed down to their very roots. This is a very gutsy topic and one that one might not expect to see in Skokie of all places, but one that deserves to be seen for the powerful story and the way it is told. While we are told it is the present, we are not exactly sure what that might mean. Could it be the 1990’s, 2000? or last month? Plus, as I said earlier, one must pay very close attention or one might miss some of Graham’s unique time sequences, which are key elements to the telling of this mysterious tale, dealing with revenge, moral ambiguity and racial biases. The play is powerful and the acting is amazing. There is a scene between McClain and Guinan that will take your breath away, but one that will stick in your mind for some time after you leave the theater. Sam Hubbard, who handled the fight scene did an amazing job causing audience members to gasp. Magic on the stage at Northlight.Lots of questions will arise as the story unfolds. Why is this wealthy, suburban businessman even riding on a bus? Why does he pick this particular woman to befriend? As we find out, and see his motivation, we also can ask ourselves, how far would we go to get sweet revenge for being wronged? Wouldwe “sell our soul”, so to speak, to be rid of the obstacles that fate (and race) have placed before us? Again, not wanting to ruin the chemistry of the story telling, I will divulge no more. Just to say- enjoy! I know that I did!
FYI-Post show discussions will follow every performance of “White Guy on the Bus” which will continue at Northlight Theatre located at 9501 Skokie Boulevard (just South of Golf Road/Old Orchard Shopping Center) through February 28th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (except 2/1 and 2/8)
There is a performance on Tuesday, February 17th at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $25-$78 and are available at the box office, by phone at 847- 673-6300 or online at www.northlight.org
Students tickets are $15 for any performance and it is suggested that this is appropriate for ages 14 and up.
There is plenty of free parking and lots of dining spots in the area.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “White Guy on the Bus”.