TCTP’s DUTCHMAN: The Subway Ride to Hades

Worthy live stage productions send us on magical roller coaster rides. Sometimes they lead to gales of laughter. Sometimes they drop us into the darkest pathways of tragic human existence. Sometimes they help us expand our world perspectives. Sometimes they reinforce how marvelous life can be. And sometimes the roller coaster hurtles full steam off the tracks and carries us into uncomfortable, brutal realities that leave us breathless, staggering out into the lobby after a performance, ensnared by the potent spell of the production’s raw experience. The Classics Theater Project’s DUTCHMAN, running through this weekend at Dallas’ Margo Jones Theatre at Fair Park, fits into the latter category. No lightweight entertainment, it’s searingly vivid theater.

Most plays written in the 20th century and many into the 21st provide a male protagonist who drives the main action. Women enhance the plot in primarily reactive and/or dependent ways. It’s all about “him”; the other arcs reinforce or conflict with “him” in some ways. DUTCHMAN turns that on its head. Set on a NYC subway car, the plot reveals a provocatively clad, brash young woman engaging a professorially-attired, book-reading young black man with the increasingly relentless aggression of a wild beast hunting prey. From her invasive, demeaning dialogue to her blatant physical sexualization, she is in charge. He responds with puzzled politeness at the start and grows more defensive as the one act unfolds. He seems inexorably caught in her invisible spider web, a puzzle to unravel. Is this a couple enacting a weird foreplay ritual in a public subway? Is this how a crazy , dominating girl hooks up with submissive men? Is this a fantasy, a nightmare scenario a very unbalanced woman undergoes in an asylum and the man is a fictional creation daily therapy can’t chase away? Or is this a bigger reflection on black/white repression, political satire? It’s chilling, repellant…and mesmerizing. A full two act’s worth of edge of seat experience in a one act. Go see for yourself, and realize you may stagger out to the lobby after, speechless. Get ready for a fast, hot roller coaster ride on this subway to Hades.

This was the last play written by African American playwright Amiri Baraka under his original name LeRoi Jones, as he was embracing Black Nationalism. It opened in New York City in 1964 at the Cherry Lane Theatre and won an Obie Award for Best New Play. TCTP’s production gives it a modern, edgy, surreal feel in a graffiti-scrawled subway car peopled with a scattering of scruffy male riders who ignore the intense interactions of the man and woman.  Director Dennis Raveneau presides over his cast with an icy precision and ethereal lightness that contradicts “normalcy”, allowing the layers of possible meaning to emerge as the curious out of kilter plot unfurls. The actors give nothing away, and neither will I. Another Gold Star production from the vault of classic works for The Classics Theatre Project.



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