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Theatre Review (LA): Madagascar and White People by J T Roger at the Road Company Theatre

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Award-winning playwright J T Roger loves monologues, judging from his two plays being presented at the Road Theatre Company. Madagascar uses monologues to tell a single story about a mysterious disappearance and its effect on three lives, but the lives are interconnected. White People again utilizes three actors, but their stories are not related.

Critics may argue that neither of these plays are real plays because there are no direct scenes between characters. I could agree up to a point, but monologues are scenes between the audience and the character, and the character with himself. When I teach, I use monologues because it demands the actor really explore the relationship of actor to audience (who are they?) and between the actor and the text (how well does the character express himself and does he say what he feels or means to say?). In a way, monologues are a good way to see into a character's deepest thoughts and to see the character's social stance on what he has to say.

Monologues are very demanding on the playwright, the audience, and the actor and they demand a high level of skill and commitment. In the case of the two plays at The Road Theatre Company, I think the playwright and the actors succeed because they have the skill to do so. Whether the audience succeeds is up for grabs.

Madagascar involves a woman, Lillian, very well played by Taylor Grant with a fierce directness and motherly protectiveness and possessiveness. Her celebrated husband has died and she marries his best friend, a rather passive but caring man named Nathan. Nathan is played by Sam Anderson, lately of Lost fame, who displays his usual insightful performance into a gentle and caring soul.

The third character is June, a tour guide in Rome who gets involved with Lillian’s son. Well, the son disappears and leaves the three bereft of knowing how to feel and how to act. Nathan doesn't know how to respond to this situation, which is not really his own but inherited through marriage and caring about Lillian. Lillian becomes desperate and performs a desperate act of suicide. June, played sensitively by Deana Barone, follows suit because she can’t handle either the stress of her husband’s disappearance or the hostility of his mother.

Their monologues are played out in a room in a hotel above the Piazza Di Spagno, giving the whole play an exotic feel. It can be hard to follow this play because it jumps around in time but is well worth the viewing. Brendon Fox provides the fine direction.

White People again involves three characters, Martin (Tom Knickerbocker) is a Republican with deep prejudice towards people of color or different nationality. He believes America belongs to Whites. Mara Lynn (Avery Clyde) is a former homecoming queen who is poor, white, and struggling to keep up. She too is prejudiced and is forced into a conflict of conscience when her son, who had encephalitis, winds up being treated by a doctor of Indian background. Finally there is the young professor Alan (Mark Doerr) whose favorite student is black, but, when he and his wife are mugged and beaten by a black gang on a visit to New York, cannot get over the fact that the gang was also black. The performances are really superb, and the direction by Douglas Clayton very taut. It is a difficult play to listen to, but is bound to make you confront your own hidden or even not-so-hidden prejudices.

Madagascar and White People are playing at the Road Theatre Company in rep, until July 9th. Take this rare chance to see two provocative plays written by a single playwright and performed and directed so well.

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About Robert Machray

  • Nevin Reilly

    I’ve seen this play and don’t recall any reference to Martin’s political affiliation. Where does the character state he is a Republican?