Crisscrossing race and identity in Angry Black White Boy
REVIEW Even if the rest of the "change" he's been promising remains elusive, Barack Obama's resounding electoral win is already change and of a profound kind given its undeniable impact on racial consciousness among African Americans, Americans at large, and no doubt people around the globe. Of course, nobody thinks racism disappeared overnight Nov. 4. If anything, the day marks an opportunity for a reinvigorated dialogue on the complexities of race and racism in the 21st-century United States. Dan Wolf's vigorous and inviting stage adaptation of Bay Area author Adam Mansbach's 2005 novel, Angry Black White Boy, might seem like an ideal instance, but in fact, although very entertaining, it rehearses a fairly familiar angle without moving much beyond it.
Mansbach's satirical but searching story concerns a white Jewish suburban hip-hop enthusiast, Macon Detornay (played appealingly by Wolf), whose guilt-tinged identification with African American culture and corresponding aversion to the white mainstream has him uneasily straddling two worlds, eventually bringing them into comically dramatic collision. Macon's guilt stems partly from a great-grandfather who, as a professional baseball coach, tormented the only black athlete who dared to hold his own on an all-white team.
Macon's familial history is also, along with hip-hop, his bridge to dorm-mate and fellow Columbia University freshman Andre (played with laidback poise by Myers Clark), whom Macon arranges to live with after learning that Andre is the great-grandson of the same ballplayer his own ancestor victimized. Andre is bemused but generous in the face of Macon's attempt to make amends. More skeptical is Andre's friend Nique (a potent Tommy Shepherd, also supplying the fine original music and soundscape). But Macon, a part-time cab driver, earns street cred when he begins robbing his fares (white dudes played by fourth ensemble member Keith Pinto) at the first sign of idle middle-class racism, becoming a notorious outlaw his victims improbably recall as black. The three new friends form the Race Traitor Project to capitalize on Macon's ironic celebrity, organizing a "day of apology" wherein white America confronts its racist demons. Naturally, things don't go as planned, and the pressure brings latent tensions surrounding Macon's fraught identity to a boil.
While wisely concentrating on the ample humor in a story that's a bit contrived even for satire, director Sean San Jose and cast (all but Clark are members of hip-hop group Felonious) propel the action through a fluid, combustible mixture of music and movement, with sharp choreography from Pinto. But as staged, the themes are less than provocative, in part because the other characters remain subordinated to Macon's limited perspective, itself almost too "black and white." Nevertheless, the cohesive, versatile ensemble and Wolf's sympathetic approach translates, under San Jose's attentive direction, into an engaging theatrical hybrid, whose punctuations and rhythms carry their own share of emotional content and cultural meaning.
ANGRY BLACK WHITE BOY
Through Nov. 23
Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m., $15$25
Intersection for the Arts
446 Valencia, SF