Dutchman | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dutchman 

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DUTCHMAN, Hodar Productions, at Voltaire. First produced in 1964, when its author was still known as LeRoi Jones, this one-act by poet Amiri Baraka dates from an era when angry militancy began shoving aside idealistic antisegregationism. Yet the mythic resonances are as crucial as the politics in this venomous variation on the tale of Adam and Eve. Baraka's protagonist, a conservative black college student named Clay, is accosted on a New York subway by an apple-munching white woman named Lula. Her increasingly predatory flirting, teasing, and taunting force Clay to shed his veneer of middle-class civility and face the murderous rage in his heart; but when violence does erupt, it's Lula, not Clay, who commits it.

Far superior to Trap Door Theatre's revival last year, which treated the work as a cartoonish 60s period piece, this low-budget staging by Nicole Mischler cleanly and clearly conveys the text's sometimes breathtaking riffs of jazz-influenced stream-of-consciousness poetry. But though Gwendolyn Druyor's provocative, pouty Lula and Torrence W. Murphy's smart, bemused Clay make strong first impressions, they never unleash the ferocious sexuality and rage needed to carry the play to its shocking climax. Clay's final monologue in particular feels too efficient to be effective; Murphy seems more focused on delivering his lines than on exploring the emotional conflicts underlying them. But if this Dutchman doesn't scale the play's potential heights, it credibly affirms the work's status as a modern dramatic landmark. —Albert Williams

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