Monument presents classic commentary on racial tension

By John Lyle Belden

“Dutchman,” presented by Monument Theatre Company, is a play, but it feels like a poem. It is a verse that surrounds you, confronts you in the intimate staging at Indy Convergence. 

On a subway train, in which the audience find ourselves to be passengers, traveling in New York City towards New Jersey, a handsome young black man, Clay (Jamaal McCray), sits reading. A beautiful young white woman, Lula (Dani Gibbs) enters, eating an apple. Is she Eve, the Serpent, or both? 

The monologues and conversation between them roll out like verse, dense with meaning. She teases, both in the sexual and bullying sense of the word. They move together and against one another — a dance rich with subtext. But, what is more shocking: the moments of violence, or the fact that she keeps saying n****r with impunity?

The play by Amiri Baraka is set in the year it was first presented, 1964, but could happen today, with passengers capturing it all on phones. Her short, slinky dress is a hot retro style; his buttoned suit still the best armor to reassure the whites around him that he is “civilized,” that his black life matters. And the tense banter would still apply — even with 56 years of “progress.”

Under the direction of Shawn Whitsell, Gibbs and McCray deliver Baraka’s words with cutting precision. We feel this play as we observe it, as the fascinating drama plays out in one intense hour. Dont’a Stark completes the cast in a quick but essential role.

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23, at 2611 W. Michigan. Get info and tickets at monumenttheatrecompany.com.

Making Oceania Great Again

By John Lyle Belden

Citizens: Do not look away! You are witnessing a rare insight into Room 101 of the Ministry of Love, where thought-criminal Winston Smith will offer his confession and confront his insanity, his failure to love Big Brother.

This is “1984.” (Your official Ministry of Truth calendar should reflect this.) The plus-good Citizens of Monument Theatre Company are providing you this opportunity, where they expose the troubling writings of George Orwell, as adapted by Michael Gene Sullivan, directed for MTC by David Ian Lee.

Smith, who also purports to be an actor named Nathan Thomas, has written his crimes in a diary which is read and re-enacted by Party Members Riley Leonard, Raven Newbolt, Kim Egan and Deont’a Stark. Thomas naturally embodies a complex patchwork of emotions — broken, yet quietly defiant. Leonard presents the pre-arrest Smith burdened by ennui and desperate for a world that makes sense to him. Newbolt plays Julia, the woman Smith risks all for, so effectively her cohorts start to question her loyalty to the Party. Egan, on the other hand, is a true believer, eager for this trial to move on to condemnation and execution. Stark nicely takes on roles including Party officer O’Brien, who eventually shows up himself, in the body of Michael R. Tingley. Karen Sternberg provides the voice of alerts of victories by Oceania forces and other vital news.

This method of presenting Smith’s criminal activity provides an intense experience in the intimate confines of Indy Convergence. The context is made contemporary by the use of hand-held telescreens (smartphones) and the autocratic atmosphere does feel familiar in the world outside. Perhaps the most chilling aspect is the confidence of Tingley’s O’Brien, aware that his role is not player in this game, but the dealer – and the House always wins.

This Citizen rates this drama as double-plus good.

To avoid potential arrest by the Thought Police, it is advisable to make your way to 2611 W. Michigan St. for the remaining weekend. Information and tickets at www.monumenttheatrecompany.com.