Race onstage, welcomes, and a goodbye

What a week

3 minute read
Freedom Theatre's 'The Ballad of Trayvon Martin.' (Illustration for 'BSR' by Mike Jackson of
Freedom Theatre's 'The Ballad of Trayvon Martin.' (Illustration for 'BSR' by Mike Jackson of

Aside from its usual blend of excellent classical music, opera, and other arts coverage, this past week’s Broad Street Review brought with it a trifecta of reviews of plays about race and racism in the United States. Passage Theatre’s White Guy on the Bus, New Freedom Theatre’s The Ballad of Trayvon Martin, and Lightning Rod Special’s re-mount of Underground Railroad Game each look at the issues from a unique perspective, and tackle them in completely different ways. As in, there is just about zero conceptual crossover.

It’s astonishing, really, to go from listening to playwright Bruce Graham’s characters safely whitesplaining racism to one another in their living rooms, to the agonized screams of Rajenda Ramoon Maharaj and Thomas J. Soto’s Martin family, to Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard’s hilarious interracial teaching/dating balancing act. That Philly is producing so much new work on the subject and tackling it from such compelling and diverse angles should be a point of pride for every one of us who support the arts in this city.

That’s also the kind of thing BSR is all about: starting conversations, asking important questions, and appreciating the range and depth of talent in our area. To that end, this week brings a few new writers into BSR’s orbit.

First, meet Trish McFadden. She caught my eye when she wrote in Phindie about white critics’ response to the Arden Theater’s production of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Some of the reviews she called out were posted right here. And her point — which echoes Wilson’s perspective — that his Decalogue is first an American story, that African-American history is American history, not some niche historical subset, caught what so many other (white) critics missed.

Also, I just thought she was a total badass for taking on this city’s critical establishment, because the best critics are generally some blend of gadfly and idealist. Her first review for us, of Lightning Rod Special’s Underground Railroad Game, exhibits both qualities, plus a whole lot of heart.

Next, we’re so honored to be a part of the discussions sparked by Inis Nua’s production of The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning. Last week, our Mark Cofta reviewed the show, and Henrik Eger interviewed its Welsh playwright, Tim Price.

This week, two Philadelphia artists — MJ Kaufman, a playwright and trans activist, and Headlong Dance Theater co-founder Amy Smithpenned a response in the form of a list of suggested best practices for handling the issues around representation of trans people onstage. We expect our readers, known for their passionate engagement in all things arts and culture, will jump in and help continue the conversation.

Finally, congratulations and farewells are in order for one of our dance writers, Gregory King, who this week reviewed Momix’s Opus Cactus. He’s leaving Swarthmore College to take a tenure-track position at Kent State University. Thanks for your contributions to Broad Street Review and to the arts in Philadelphia, and best wishes in your new venture!

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