Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.
White Guy on the Bus proves to be a bold step forward for Executive Director Bud Martin and the rest of Delaware Theatre Company (DTC). While DTC has tackled difficult themes over the years at its cozy theater on the Wilmington Riverfront, this play deals with several serious and challenging topics. In 2016, the Delaware Theatre Company began actively pursuing a path to make the theater a more welcoming place where all stories can be experienced.
Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham shines a harsh light on problems in our society –race, class, poverty, privilege, violence, crime, retribution, public education and marginalized lives – in his latest play White Guy on the Bus. Graham’s fearless and incisive play takes a no-holds barred look at hidden and no-so-hidden racism within all of us. Martin’s forthright direction paired with Paul Tate DePoo’s simple yet effective set design subtly complement the actors and story.
The play opens with a middle-aged married couple talking about their respective jobs and the people they deal with on a daily basis. Ray (Robert Cuccioli) is a well-to-do financial manager while Roz (Susan McKey) teaches English at a public school in a blighted neighborhood of Philadelphia. They appear to be a nice, cultured, white couple living on the Main Line with few major worries and an eye toward early retirement.
Their surrogate son Christopher (Jonathan Silver) and his recent bride Molly (Jessica Bedford) join them to sip wine casually on the patio until Roz talks wryly about the racial hostility in her predominantly black school. Students often call her a “white bitch” to her face, which shocks Molly. Meanwhile, Christopher is eager to expound on his doctoral thesis concerning male African-American images in television advertising. He is an outsider looking in, but truly feels he can turn his thoughts on race portrayal by the media into a meaningful doctoral project.
This opening conversation is relatively light, but the subsequent scenes grow deeper, darker, and more complex. We get background information like how Christopher became part of the older couple’s life, how Ray takes pride in his analytical skills (he’s a “numbers man”), and how Roz is helping a 10th-grader learn how to read. But each scene between the four white characters delves into racial discussions where differing opinions and theories are debated.
Sandwiched between these suburban episodes are scenes aboard a city bus where Ray befriends a young black woman named Shatique (Danielle Leneé). She is a nursing student and a single mother who is barely surviving life, but has hope for the future. Ray and Shatique strike up a rapport on their weekly bus rides together. But where exactly are they going?
It is gradually revealed that their destination is a prison where Shatique’s brother is incarcerated. So why is Ray riding the bus?
The plot twist that comes in the closing scene of the first act is alarming. Simply put, the audience is shocked into a new reality. What has transpired to this point must be reevaluated and fully processed before the story can reach a meaningful conclusion.
The drama is intensified in the second act where the story and the dialogue focus on human nature and racial prejudice:
Ray: You know what the problem is with the death penalty in this country?
Shatique: It’s disproportionately given out to black folks?
Ray: Yep. I’m serious. We target the wrong people – wrong crimes. If they had dragged Bernie Madoff into Central Park and hung him from the neck till he was dead – and broadcast it live on CNN in high def – we wouldn’t need the SEC. Nobody’d get out of line on Wall Street ‘cause they’d be scared sh*tless.
White Guy On the Bus aims for social realism and will take you out of your comfort zone with its topics and language, but it is not difficult to follow or watch. Graham’s pithy and direct dialog allows the excellent cast to address the issues head on. There are no metaphors or complex symbolism. What the audience sees is five actors speaking their characters’ minds with conviction and, at times, bravado. They believe what they say because they’ve lived it – or observed it from their unique perspectives. Idealism, appearance, and reality mix. Ray is perfectly gentlemanly until he suddenly isn’t. Shatique has moral sensibility until an indecent proposal is proffered.
The play grants the audience a poignant ending, but one not wholly satisfying to each character. The story begs for post-viewing discussions and the Delaware Theatre Company wisely prepared for that.
The DTC staff had undergone an intensive equality, diversity, inclusion and social justice training prior to this production. The training examined issues of privilege, allyship and diversity with the lens of better providing the staff with the necessary tools to run the Community Discussions that follow every performance. DTC encourages patrons to reflect on White Guy on the Bus after the curtain lowers. These open forums offer an opportunity for the audiences to discuss and relate their experiences to each other. Attendees can feel safe asking difficult questions about the topical references that can be made in their life or community.
There will also be a special Panel Discussion on Race, Equality and Education co-sponsored by DTC and Teach America on Saturday, February 11, at 4:30pm.
The performance schedule of White Guy on the Bus is: Wednesdays (2:00pm), Thursdays (7:00pm), Fridays (8:00pm), Saturdays (2:00 & 8:00pm) and Sundays (2:00pm) through Sunday, February 19. Tickets are $20-65 for both evening and matinee performances. White Guy on the Bus runs approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Delaware Theatre Company is located at 200 Water Street in Wilmington.