LIVE: “Dutch Masters” @ Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge [GailSez]

July 27th, 2011, 2:45 pm by Sara
Steve (Christian Coulson) and Eric (Amari Cheatom) meet on the New York subway on a summer's day in 1992 in "Dutch Masters." (photo: Christy Wright)

Steve (Christian Coulson) and Eric (Amari Cheatom) meet on the New York subway on a summer's day in 1992 in "Dutch Masters." (photo: Christy Wright)

The world-premiere of this admirable little play about race relations is one of the last events of the County-wide Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival celebrating African-American culture and heritage here. The other two theatrical offerings, Going to St. Ives (already closed) and The Best of Enemies (currently in previews), both at Barrington Stage, have been getting considerably more hype. Until last week I literally thought I was going to see a play about Dutch painters or their paintings.

Instead I saw a concise and intriguing new work about the apparently chance meeting in the New York City subway of a young white man, Steve (Christian Coulson), and a young black man, Eric (Amari Cheatom), who, it turns out, have much more uniting and dividing them than they thought. The title refers to the box of cigars the boys buy to use as materials for a blunt they share. Eric explains to Steve that the Dutch Masters were the tobacco – and slave – traders of the Dutch West India Company. Steve explains to Eric that they were painters and that the picture on the cover of the box is a Rembrandt*. Both of them are right.

Playwright Greg Keller has been acting with the BTF for many years now, but this is the first play of his they have produced, although he has been writing for a while now and was a Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellow at Juilliard and has had plays workshopped and produced in New York. Dutch Masters had a workshop production at LAByrinth Theater Company last summer.

Click to read the rest at GailSez.


LIVE: Greg Keller’s “Dutch Masters” @ Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge [Berkshire on Stage]

July 27th, 2011, 2:30 pm by Sara
Amari Cheatom (Eric-L) and Christian Coulson (Steve-R). (photo: Christy Wright)

Amari Cheatom (Eric-L) and Christian Coulson (Steve-R). (photo: Christy Wright)

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.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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