New play ‘F—ing White People’ edgy on and on point
SOUTHFIELD, Mich.— Writer/director Sean Paraventi most definitely has a hit in what is likely to be one of the season’s edgiest, most thought-provoking plays.
Presented by Detroit’s newest professional theater, The Assembly Line Theatre Company, F-king White People takes on race and gentrification, but with a humorous undertone which curtails defensiveness. The vast majority of the full house Saturday night was white and probably left-leaning, but didn’t have any problem laughing heartily at the spot-on jabs at politically correct, liberal white folks.
Incidentally, the play is being hosted by an obviously progressive Lutheran church while the theater company looks for a permanent home. The sign at the road reads “FWP” to help direct theater goers to the venue. I might be splitting hairs, but the play’s title appears as both “F-ing White People” and “F-king White People” (with and without the “k”) in various places. In any case, the play is well worth attending. The seating is arranged cabaret style and beer and wine are available for donation. The set-up make the audience feel almost like an extension of the action happening on the stage.
Set in a living room of a young couple who live in an unnamed, up and coming neighborhood in Detroit, FWP explores what happens when an unexpected guest drops in at a dinner party and upsets the politically correct apple cart, causing everyone to question who they really are.
The hosts of the party, Doug (Mitchell Koory) and Denise (Anne Marie Damman) are actually married in real life, which is no surprise since they perfectly convey a newlywed couple that are still getting to know each other. Their neighbors and party guests are Bethany (Ann Katherine) and Thomas (Dez Walker). Bethany is that newbie Detroiter who grew up in the ‘burbs but feels like she now has the right to preach to everyone else about racism because she has moved to the city. Thomas is her unassuming black boyfriend who although born in Detroit, also grew up in the suburbs. Since he doesn’t have the “white guilt” the other characters are burdened with, he has no problem stating that he doesn’t think he wants to raise children in the city, which prompts quite the heated conversation with his girlfriend.
The unexpected guest is Ryan (Brian Taylor), a long-time friend from Doug’s past. Not to insult him, but Taylor seems born to play this character, who is both oafish and endearing. Everyone knows someone like this — the guy with no filter who says exactly what everyone else is thinking but is too afraid to state. He’s like the subconscious of the group, but the other characters are too caught up with appearances to want to hear any part of it. It’s easier for them to just label him as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well.
Finally, Lauren is portrayed by Cassandra Svacha, who also co-directs the play with Paraventi. Her character, another young white professional who has chosen to take on the urban experience, is the catalyst for taking the play’s premise deeper and opening up a new side to the characters, for better or worse.
Bonnie Fitch is the assistant director and stage manager and John Bruton is the technical manager. The set is a living room, complete with furniture made from reclaimed wood from an abandoned Detroit home, which Denise shows off with pride, missing the fact that it’s cringeworthy that the residents in that house were probably displaced by people like her and her neighbors.
While there are some inside-baseball Detroit references which might need to be tweaked for the play to run in other cities, the issues presented are happening in cities across the nation. There are pluses and minuses of urban renewal and while that might be the presumptive theme of the play, it goes much deeper to a look at the characters and the history that make them who they are today, PC facades notwithstanding.