White Guy on the Bus
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
The Road on Magnolia
Through March 18
The best reason to see Bruce Graham’s troubling and problem-filled White Guy on the Bus is Kacie Rogers’s portrayal of a struggling African-American mom fending off the advances of a privileged white guy. The advances aren’t sexual, but they do involve demands that compromise the integrity of Rogers’s character, a nursing student named Shatique with a young son whose future means the world to her. Directed by Stewart J. Zully, this production highlights the weaknesses of a contrived script, and Rogers’s projection of wiry strength and a forthright presence offers a much needed reprieve.
On the bus, Shatique meets Ray (Kevin McCorkle), a 50-something white man who makes a point of sitting next to her and inquiring about her family and her hopes for the future. We meet Ray before Shatique does; the playwright establishes him as an affluent financial adviser with a beautiful home and loving wife, Roz (Amy Stoch), who teaches disadvantaged black kids. Roz and Ray don’t have children but they’re close with a young man, Christopher (Crash Buist), who’s just become engaged to Molly (Teagan Rose, doing her best with a monochromatic role). Christopher’s writing a dissertation about the positive images of African-American men in the media. Roz maintains that these are manufactured, and she and Molly face off over whether that’s a good thing or a bad one.
But back to the bus. At first Shatique is civil but plainly uncomfortable with Ray sitting next to her; white people don’t frequent her neck of the woods and almost never take public transportation. After a while though, he gains a modicum of her trust — which then evaporates when he appears on her doorstep one evening, armed with a dossier containing details of her life and a provocative and pointedly illegal way to materially improve it.
Like several other local productions in the past year – Honky, Dutch Masters, Bee-Luther-Hatchee —White Guy aims to tackle that most incendiary of topics in our national dialogue— race. It poses such questions as whether white people have the right to weigh in on issues affecting black people, and how the behavior of well-meaning white people can be perceived as racist (and often is). And it probes, purportedly, beneath the surface of liberal white discourse to reveal another uglier attitude underneath.
But while these issues are surely pertinent, they are awkwardly framed in a play that begins with lots of chit-chatty exposition, only to veer into glaring and improbable melodrama later on. It makes matters worse that neither McCorkle nor Stoch brings much credence to their roles, either independently or as what the playwright posits as a warm and loving couple. Ray starts out telling Roz how bored he is with his life and how he’d like to chuck the whole thing, and sometimes that almost seems true of the performer. A lackluster Stoch delivers a lot of her lines out to the audience — a directorial issue if ever I saw one.
Derrick McDaniel’s overly dim lighting makes Sarah B. Brown’s drab set appear even drabber. And why one would choose to stage some of the most vital scenes involving Shatique upstage and those with cocktail chatter downstage is anybody’s guess.
The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 18. www.roadtheatre.org or (818) 761-8838. Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with an intermission