THEATER REVIEW: “Well Intentioned White People” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
Photograph by Jennifer Graessle
The title explains it all. Rachel Lynett has written a powerful and controversial attack against white liberals who think they understand Black people but whose marches and protests against racism accomplish nothing beyond making themselves feel better. For a white reviewer like myself to evaluate this work may subject me to the very criticisms that are directed against the play’s white characters; but nevertheless, we must plunge in.
Well Intentioned White People, now enjoying its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, features Cass (Myxolydia Tyler), a young, queer, Black college professor whose work focuses on the African diaspora. After receiving racist letters warning her to “Go back to Africa” and having her car defaced and damaged, Cass, who prefers to keep all this under wraps, turns her fury against her white roommate and ex-girlfriend Viv (Victoria Frings), for reporting the car incidents (she doesn’t know about the letters) to the school paper (run by Viv’s sister).
Responding to the subsequent publicity, the Dean (Andrea Cirie) of this unidentified nearly all-white liberal institution located in a red state, decides to launch a campus-wide “we will not allow discrimination event”: an “Equality Day” that turns into “Unity Week,” protesting against racism, homophobia and the refugee crisis. And she bulldozes Cass into serving as the face of the protest.
Mortified, Cass complains that “something horrible happens, and then we expect the person it happened to to lead the revolution.” But because she is coming up for tenure, her friend Parker (Samy el-Noury), a transgender, Puerto Rican male colleague, successfully urges her to accept the role of keynote speaker, smile and go along with the events.