Dutchman | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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Dutchman, Trap Door Theatre. This landmark 1964 one-act by LeRoi Jones (now Imamu Amiri Baraka) is a racially charged Adam-and-Eve allegory in which an earnest, conservative young black man named Clay is tempted, taunted, and finally murdered by a hip young white woman as the two of them ride a subway snaking through the underbelly of New York. Though interracial attraction is hardly the titillating taboo it was when the play premiered, Dutchman's nihilistic take on American race relations still reflects an unwelcome truth, as several recent ugly cases of racial violence affirm.

Unfortunately, director Michael S. Pieper's revival, performed with the cartoonish exaggeration of a Fritz the Cat comic, treats the story as a 60s period piece, paying more attention to visual jokes (a flowered mini dress, spray-painted graffiti) than to character development--or to intelligible dialogue in the overloud climax. The result is a Dutchman without suspense, horror, dynamic variation, or sexual intensity, qualities crucial to the play. Robert Hines III's clownish Clay never conveys the risk the character feels as he responds to the sexually inviting Lula, played by Su Sazama with an overstated jitteriness that would warn even the casual onlooker of her psychological instability. What this production needs is more of the low-key naturalism that made Pieper's Trap Door staging of The Boys of the Peggy August Club so compelling.

--Albert Williams


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