White Guy on the Bus Review - Riveting Tale of Race, Money, Power and Privilege

photos by Michael Brosilow

Bruce Graham's "White Guy on the Bus" is a riveting tale of race, money, power and privilege featuring Ray (Francis Guinan) and Roz (Mary Beth Fisher) as a well-to-do suburban couple, who never had children of their own. Ray, the "numbers guy," helps "rich people get richer." Roz, the jaded, yet hopeful inner city school teacher is the subject of a weekly poll where the faculty bet on how many times she'll get called "white bitch."

Roz's complete and utter lack of political correctness is both refreshing and discomfiting at the same time. She delights in pushing buttons, regularly challenging surrogate son Christopher's (Jordan Brown) fiance Molly (Amanda Drinkall) who counsels at an elite prep school, telling her "you're a racist, you just don't know it." She tells Molly the fundamental difference between them is "your kids cut themselves; my kids cut each other."

photos by Michael Brosilow

An unexpected and violent act leads Ray on a weekly bus ride into one of the city's worst neighborhoods. There he meets Shatique (Patrese D. McClain), a single mother who is working part-time while attending nursing school. In her spare time she visits her son in New Jersey, where he's being cared for by her mother. And every weekend, she visits her brother who is serving a life sentence in prison.

Ray chats up Shatique, talking about consumer analytics and market research. "They know everything about you," he says. We soon learn that the "they" he is referring to is actually him. He compiles a complete dossier on Shatique, and ever the "numbers guy," decides she is the one who can help him on his bizarre mission for revenge.

Is he trying to help Shatique? Or himself? Is he exerting white power and privilege to get what he wants from her, a black woman? Or is it a simple economic transaction like he says?

photos by Michael Brosilow

The performance was brilliantly cast with Guinan and Fisher bringing Ray and Roz masterfully to life, and McClain's portrayal of Shatique and the internal conflicts she struggles with spot on. Brown and Drinkall's Christopher and Molly showcased a liberal hypocrisy--it was easy to espouse a progressive point of view as long as it remained unthreatening; but when confronted with pregnancy and the thought of raising a family in the city, their world view was upended and they found themselves longing for the peace and safety of the suburbs.

Though virtually every stereotype on race finds its way into this piece, Graham's production reinforces the complexity of race, power, and privilege and will no doubt lead to some lively post-show discussions.

photos by Michael Brosilow

We are reminded that nothing (and no one) is simply black and white. Roz, though decidedly un-PC, cares deeply enough about her students to worry about one who hasn't shown up for tutoring in a while. Ray, who likes to present himself as a facts and figures guy harbors strong emotions and an unexpected propensity to violence. And Shatique is confronted with a moral dilemma when presented with an offer that will lift her and her son out of poverty but link her forever to this "White Guy on the Bus."

The show runs through February 28 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL. For more information or tickets, call the box office at 847-673-6300.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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