Raindog Theatre, 735-1946
Through Feb 24
Amiri Baraka's (LeRoi Jones) Dutchman is sort of a Zoo Story for the racially aware Beat Generation. Like Albee's masterpiece, Dutchman was written during the '60s and revolves around the can't-fail premise of a crazy character fucking with the mind of a sane character until the sane character is also crazy.
Here, the crazy character is a sexy white woman named Lula, and the sane character is a black man named Clay. Clay is minding his own business on the subway, and Lula boards and instantly begins toying with his mind. Somehow, she knows where Clay is headed, and whom he is visiting, and she even knows about the time when he was 10 and tried to get it on with his sister. In these initial moments, Jones builds a great shroud of mystery around Lula. She seems to know everything about Clay, but reveals nothing about herself. She lies, struts about, rubs Clay's leg, psychotically munches on a steady stream of apples, and never once provides a clear reason for her behavior.
Debra-Ann Lund, as Lula, exudes all the right mystical carnal charisma necessary for a convincing portrayal of a lunatic sexpot, and Frank Arrington has the perfect physical presence for Clay: a sort of soft punching bag for Lula to knock around with her duplicitous intentions. But the play fails to offer much more than these few, well-cast characters. Arrington's deep monotone provides a nice balance of understatement to Lula's frenetia, but it also lacks a real sense of passion. His interest seems primarily sexual, but as Arrington plays it, that tension merely takes the form of a passing interest, instead of a powerful force that would justify his sticking around and enduring Lula's chaos for as long as he does.
Jones is an explosive poet, and he wrote Dutchman during one of the most explosive times in American history, about the incredibly explosive themes of race and sexuality. And yet this production made me feel nothing. Leaving the theater, I had to wonder what was wrong with me. Have issues of race become so commonplace that my generation no longer responds to 30-year old plays about them? Do my white-as-hell middle class suburban roots prevent me from connecting to this sort of thing?
I'm pretty sure that the answer to both questions is no. This play failed to move me because ultimately, its characters did not move me. Lula fucks with Clay for no clear reason, and Clay sits and takes it with no good reason. This is problematic, for the play clearly wants to resonate with some sort of social significance.
It ends tragically, and it wants us to ask ourselves why this tragedy happened. But when characters are as motiveless and schizophrenic as Lula, and as unsympathetically weak as Clay, the answer becomes mind-numbingly obvious: "Because she was a crazy bitch" and, "Because he's too stupid to get the hell out of there." With no motives behind its driving action, the play's social commentary disappears from sight, overshadowed by a study of two characters that deserve what they get.