On Friday and Saturday, Paper Lantern Theatre presented “Facing Our Truth” at Triad Stage in Downtown Greensboro. It featured a series of six ten minute plays written by a handful of diverse playwrights. The production explored the concepts of race and privilege, highlighting African American issues specifically through the lens of minority populations.
Originally commissioned by New York based theatre company The New Black Fest in light of the 2012 Trayvon Martin case verdict, “Facing Our Truth” has been performed at universities and professional stages across the country to general critical acclaim. The series knows no stylistic bounds, choosing to include tragedy, satire and comedy in its lineup, allowing viewers to contemplate cultural and political issues from a variety of angles.
Lounging in the cozy, intimate environment of Triad’s Uptown Cabaret theatre, it was easy to notice that the audience was awash with anticipation and conversation. The energy in the room was palpable; attendees eagerly discussed what was to come. All the while, James Brown’s “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” played unapologetically in the background.
The series opened with “Night Vision,” a play that forced observers to directly challenge their expectations, written by black actress and writer Dominique Morisseau. The act centered on the pregnant Ayanna and her husband Ezra, who witnessed the beating of a young woman by an unidentified man. Upon calling the police, Ayanna makes the assumption that the man was black, to which her husband disagrees, saying it was too difficult to tell.
The work compelled the audience to think of the gravity of these claims, the violence that could potentially ensue after making them. Ezra confers the importance of examining motives and backgrounds when it comes to crime, explaining that poverty and other outside forces lead to misconduct – a compelling argument that relates to America’s current sociocultural environment.
Immediately following “Night Vision,” was “Some Other Kid”, the work of Asian American playwright A. Rey Pamatmat. Following the banter of a group of teenage friends, the piece questions personal morals and the modern day valuation of skills. It deplores the idea that some individuals’ talents are more special than others, affirming that a similar mode of thinking would lead to inevitable disposability politics.
The work takes a shocking turn towards its end, with 17-year-old Andre being shot to death while walking to a 7/11. This was not the only play that ended with violence: “Dressing” by Mona Mansour and Tala Manassah, leaves a mother reeling after the death of her son – just hours after she conversed with him about typical African American street style and its ability to turn respectable young people into targets of violence.
The series took a turn for the humorous with the inclusion of the comedic, “Colored,” by Winter Miller, which urged viewers to reevaluate racial privilege. The piece involved a group of subway-goers of different colors – blue, red, yellow, green, pink and purple – and their conversations about whether class, money, education or race define privilege the most. This same dark humor was continued with the satirical, “No More Monsters Here,” by Marcus Gardley, in which a white woman is diagnosed with an irrational fear of black men and is forced to live as one for three days.
Through all of the dramatics; however, one of the most compelling facets of the show was the audience itself. Filled with a diverse array of people both young and old, black and white, male and female, it showed that plays like “Facing Our Truth” facilitate dialogue between people of different ages, races and backgrounds, bridging the gap in ways that politics and other traditional means cannot.
The arts have a central role in today’s cultural debate. The inclusion of diverse themes and politically charged works in the modern day theatre repertoire encourages open discussion and ensures that drama and other forms of art are brought to the masses.
In this way, “Facing Our Truth” is not just a lesson in good political theatre; it is an overwhelmingly positive sign that in spite of high tensions and an environment rife with misunderstanding, there are always people willing to lend a hand or a sympathetic ear to make the world a better place – one play at a time.