Surrealistic elements help Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies transcend its sitcom origins | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Surrealistic elements help Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies transcend its sitcom origins 

Like the black experience, the show is messy, fun, shocking, and unpredictable.

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Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies is framed within the well-worn 1990s comedy trope "white people are like this/black people are like this." Combined with a classic city mouse-country mouse setup of an inner city teen teaching his preppy and dorky counterpart how to "be black," this Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for the stage is catnip for educated liberals.

Mercifully, the story acknowledges that the black experience is not a monolith and smartly leverages the stereotypes with modern racial and social critique, resulting in a comedic exploration of the constant barrage of mundane microagressions that black people experience in otherwise all-white environments. Surrealistic elements help the narrative transcend sitcom comedy to meatier material, shooting off into a refreshingly unpredictable direction.

Jalen Gilbert as street-smart Tru and Jayson Lee as suburban prep-schooler Marquis are stellar in their joyful exploration of their newfound friendship across class lines. Caroline Hendricks, Casey Morris, and Maggie Scrantom are hilarious and occasionally squirm inducing as Marquis's classmates, but they're also capable of handling difficult scenes that have been smartly written to address harsh societal truths.

A bit involving a "laugh" sign attempts to identify and comment on the racist underpinnings of American comedy, but isn't used definitively enough to make more than its initial statement, and distracts from the rest of the action. Like the black experience, Hooded is messy, unpredictable, sometimes fun, sometimes shocking, and should probably come with a trigger warning..   v

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