Move over, Al Gore♦
InterAct Theatre Company is known for its socially conscious productions, which usually are deeply serious. So this new comedy by the group’s founder-director, Seth Rozin, comes as a surprise.
But let the ticket-buyer be forewarned: Black Gold isn’t entirely what the ads would lead you to expect. The promotional material calls it a hilarious satire. But the last third of the play turns bleak: a prediction of what the world will become if current patterns continue. Black Gold’s truth is more bitter than anything Al Gore dishes up, more tragic than inconvenient.
With its presentational style and its mockery of governmental and business leaders, Black Gold shares much in common with the work of Bertolt Brecht. But Rozin is less polemical and more playful. Perhaps Larry Gelbart (he who wrote Oh, God, Tootsie, and the TV series “M-A-S-H”) is closer.
So when I say Black Gold is more than "a hilarious satire," that’s a compliment. Rozin uses comedy to make serious points. He softens us up with shtick and then he sticks it to us.
A three-word policy on terrorism
The laughs start in the opening scene: a debate in which a Bush-like President is asked his policy on terrorism. He answers simplistically: "I have balls." Then, gesturing towards the female senator who is his opponent: "She doesn’t." A Detroit resident complains that his GM job went to some guys in Bangladesh or Honduras. "Maybe they should think about outsourcing our government to Honduras."
Although he wrote this play when stock market prices were rising, Rozin was prescient. His narrator says: "Oil prices continued to rise as the stock market was spiraling downward."
Rozin’s protagonist, a black homeowner in Detroit named Curtis Walker, strikes oil in his back yard. To paraphrase Yip Harburg in Finian’s Rainbow, the working poor become the working rich. The have-nots now have something everyone else wants. But Walker won’t be treated fairly.
Afflicting the comfortable, comforting the afflicted
Rozin skewers politicians, real estate promoters, baseball players and executives, credit card companies— almost every group you could think of— but he’s sensitive to the anguish of the black father who discovers the oil. The American Jewish woman who once marched for the Negro rights, and her nephew in Israel are also treated sympathetically.
Simultaneously with the oil rush in Michigan, that young Jew and an Arab stage a theater-piece along the Israel-Palestine border to protest violence. “They’ll all laugh at us," worries Amir, the Arab, adding, "We’re not going to change any minds." David the Jew replies, "Maybe they should laugh at us," because that would represent a breakthrough. Clearly, Seth Rozin identifies as David as he throws the comedy of Black Gold in our faces.
One of my favorite moments occurs when the staffs of big law firms introduce themselves: "Glen Garry and Ross," "Rosen Krantz Guilden and Stern," "Churchill Chekhov Beckett and Brecht." Another occurs when the chancellor of Germany decries "a government trampling on the rights of its own citizens. It’s unheard of!"
A new alternative fuel
My favorite moment occurred when the president’s staff comes up with a new alternative fuel. It is a disposable commodity that will burn easily and is in plentiful supply: books.
A versatile cast of six plays dozens of roles. The set is dominated by the base of an oil derrick in a yard in Detroit. Action flows rapidly from Detroit to D.C. to the Holy Land and Saudi Arabia. Rozin stages it with fluidity, throwing out barbs in many directions and gathering everything together for the troubling ending as the government comes up with a horrible Final Solution.
Shortly before the end, Rozin provides one last laugh. As the black people of Detroit are evicted from their homes because the government calls them a security risk, they trudge across the stage singing "Anatevka" from Fiddler on the Roof.
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