Student-Produced Play ‘Dutchman’ Examines Racism

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After its Sept. 7 performance, the team behind “Dutchman,” a student-led play set in the 1960s, revealed the creative process behind their production.

The play, which was performed from Sept. 6 – Sept. 9, tells the story of Clay (played by junior Latavian Johnson) who encounters Lula (played by sophomore Sidney Kelley) on a subway.

Lula, a white woman, flirts with Clay, who is a black man, and makes assumptions about him based on stereotypes, but she becomes angry when Clay doesn’t completely play along.

After Lula mocks Clay, he slaps her and begins a monologue criticizing racism in the U.S., speculating what would happen if he fought back against oppression.

Before Clay can leave, Lula stabs him and then turns her attention to another black man who enters the subway car as Clay’s body is dumped out by the other passengers.

Scenic designer senior Maddie Edmonds and director senior Zoe Allison said they were at first undecided on the set’s design, but they finally decided to seat the audience around the train car.

An important aspect of the play is that it gives African-American people a voice they didn’t always have throughout American history, Allison said.

Allison debated keeping the play set in the ‘60s or modernizing it because there were modern issues she thought the play could address.

“We have a problem in America right now of killing black people, especially black men,” Allison said.

Lula uses a racial slur and Clay slaps Lula because the playwright Amiri Baraka wanted to make people angry, Allison said.

Kelley said that although her character’s use of the racial slur is a crucial part of the play, she doesn’t like using the slur in her portrayal of Lula.

Johnson said the use of the slur is necessary for the play to be effective.

“I feel like it’s there for a reason,” Johnson said. “This play was not meant to make you feel warm inside. It was meant to make you feel uncomfortable for 45 minutes.”

Allison said the other characters, who do nothing as Clay and Lula argue yet help dispose of Clay’s body symbolize complacency.

Those who choose to do nothing and ignore what’s happening are essentially taking the oppressor’s side, ensemble actor and sophomore Jordan Southerland said.

“We’re not necessarily playing along with Lula, but we’re not doing anything to prevent it,” Southerland said.

An original work directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Kevin Browne will be the next play presented in the Bridges-Larson Theatre.

The play, which is untitled thus far, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28 and at 2 p.m. from Nov. 2 to Nov. 4.

 

photos courtesy of Candace Seward.

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