In several pre-show descriptions of Greg Keller’s new play Dutch Masters, ticket buyers are told that they will be taken on a “plot-driven roller coaster ride.” But for this rider, there will be no re-ride. It was a rough and unsettling trip.
At the outset of the play we meet the two young twenty-something characters, Eric (Amari Cheatom) who is a black man, and Steve (Christian Coulson) who is white, riding on the D Train, past 59th Street heading north towards the Bronx. Eric starts jivin’ with the white dude in a vernacular street talk which is almost indecipherable to the average Berkshire Theatre goer. I suppose I should be impressed that Keller has such an intimate command of this alternate style of speech practiced by the under-educated in our society, but it made following the interactions between the two men feel like just so much stalking and intimidation.
There’s another thing, it means this play will not age well. Hefty portions of jargon will doom almost any play to become outdated very quickly. The challenge for a playwright is finding the middle road where such speech is more suggested than duplicated. There were large stretches of Keller’s play where he did just that, but far too much of the initial exposition was lost in undecipherable colloquialisms. Since it is one of the things that divides the races, perhaps it was employed by the writer to underscore that point.