N gets lost in both sides’ debates over the use of racial epithets. | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

N gets lost in both sides’ debates over the use of racial epithets. 

Sturdy performances can't hide the faulty premise underlying David Alex's new play.

click to enlarge N


Marcus Davis

N at the Greenhouse Theater is based on a faulty premise: that a white actor would refuse to say the N-word in a play. Stage and screen are universally acknowledged as being "allowable" environments for this. However, this incident only serves as a MacGuffin for a clunky "both sides" thought experiment on liberal hypocrisy.

Stacie Doublin plays Mrs. Page, an older Black Republican forced by her son to accept a caretaker. Ryan Smetana plays Eddy, the naive young thespian charged with caring for this headstrong, eccentric woman. Doublin and Smetana embody the endearing odd couple well; Doublin expertly navigates the arc from crotchety to kind, and Smetana deftly makes the trek from youthful innocence to defeated adult. Director TaRon Patton finds some genuinely hilarious and touching moments.

Unfortunately, playwright David Alex's script casts the actors as straw-men proxies for cliched social-media arguments. Eddy is cast as the obtuse mansplainer, droning on about why people shouldn't be offended, and Mrs. Page is tasked with educating him in the form of sassy Black History zingers. Too much time is wasted on constitutional law and the long-gone history of the liberal days of the Republican Party, and not enough is spent on Mrs. Page's life as a pariah in Black society. Actor Reginald Hemphill makes a short cameo as DeShawn, Eddy's Black friend, a character whose perspective could have run deeper; as it is, he's a mere foil for Eddy to realize that his experience as a white man is different than a Black man's. A subplot involving Eddy's director and the professional costs of integrity shows unrealized promise. However, the depiction of the struggle of being infantilized in old age is extremely thoughtful.

There are certainly two sides to every story, but N doesn't have anything new to say about either side.  v

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