Sunday, May 6, 2012

"Dutchmen" from Bricolage Production Company

"Dutchman" by LeRoi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka) finds two people, a black man and a white woman, on a subway. The two begin a seduction dance that escalates into a bitter dissection of race and manhood.

Bricolage Production Company has arguably the most exciting atmosphere in all of Pittsburgh theatre. From the moment you walk in, one can tell that the volunteers are excited to have you participate in the graffiti wall, the ticket girl is thrilled that you came, the concessions lady is happy to talk for awhile. The atmosphere of the lobby is one of pent-up exhiliration (They've made theatre! You're going to see it! Isn't that fantastic!?) and for that reason alone Bricolage should be wildly applauded and attended.

The set of "Duthcmen" is a monument to what decently-funded theatre can do. (Please take this sentence to donate to a theatre) Audiences are treated to a subway car that extends from one end of the room to the other, giving plenty of area, handrails, and interesting seating for the characters to explore. On that note, when you enter the theatre, sit to the right as most of the action is aimed there. The lights/projections are used masterfully to really give the specific sense of movement that a subway car has. In addition, the sounds help to complete the illusion and set up the world "Dutchmen" is speeding through. 

That being said, there are several things about "Dutchmen" that simply come off as...odd. Maybe it is an age thing. Tami Dixon's Lula is older than the script dictates, but she is definately a seductress. However, her performance, at points, seemed to suggest that she was playing a 20-year-old? Seducing as a 20-year-old would? But then, wouldn't a MILF act like a 20-something even though she clearly is not? Is she on Vicodin? After all, two middle-aged (or even similarly-aged people) will try and seduce each other differently then say, a 20 year old tries to seduce a 30 year old, or vice versa.

Jonathan Berry as Clay, the black man in question, is also not the script's designated age, and maybe that's what throws off the dynamic. Does Berry's Clay really want to sleep with Dixon's Lula so much that he puts up with that much obvious abuse? Director Mark Clayton states in his Director's Notes that "Dutchmen" " Lula's game". This seems to translate into Berry largely being one-note as the Great Acceptor until he cracks into violence. Also, there is usually a conceit that, if a stranger is harassing you, you can always leave. One can go to the next subway car if someone hurls racial slurs at someone else. Why Berry's Clay doesn't is never quite clear.

At the start of "Dutchmen" the audience is told they may sit onstage in the subway car for the performance (Don't). Also throughout the play, various other subway riders enter throughout...and then inherently do nothing. They sit and, like the audience members who choose to sit onstage, try to be transparent/ Why have someone onstage if they're not going to do anything? The other actors as passengers take no one's side emotionally. Neither do they encourage or shame the main characters into their extreme reactions. This leaves Lula and Clay to largely perform as though they are alone in the car - which again, comes off as odd in such a realisticly set-up world.

That being said, support Bricolage Theatre. When a theatre's mission statement includes the words "Adventurous Theatre"  that "alters perceptions", you know it's something you want to be a part of.

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