“Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies” explores racial identity, privilege and prejudice – People’s World


Left to right, Tasha Ames, Clare Margaret Donovan, Betsy Stewart, Jalen K. Stewart, Brent Grimes, Ezekiel Goodman and Vincent Doud/Cooper Bates

LOS ANGELES — Is it possible to address burning and ever-present issues such as racial identity, privilege, prejudice, pop culture and even racially motivated murder with the irreverence of dark comedy? The long answer can be found in a voluminous tome found in your local bookstore under Critical Race Theory. The short answer is yes, if you’re such an insightful and compassionate playwright as Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm. Otherwise, it is a ground that must be traveled with caution. Chisholm is able to state certain facts and realities in a bold and provocative way that writers of a paler hue would not be allowed to.

The Echo Theater Company presents the Los Angeles premiere of Hooded, or being black for dummies, directed by Ahmed Best. The Echo continues a series of biting coming-of-age-themed comedies in America. Previous chapters have included The Wolves, about a high school girl football team, Poor Clare, about a verbally modern 13th-century teenager, Clare of Assisi, who wakes up to the injustice of the world. Hooded premiered in 2017 in a Mosaic Theater production at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington DC, winning the Helen Hayes Award. It will have its New York premiere this summer at 59E59 – one word (three actually) to the wise in New York, “Don’t miss it!”

If you are Trayvon Martin, or one of the hundreds of young African Americans who have been gunned down by cops or militia, coming of age in America can be fatal. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the playwright opens with a bemused black cop, Officer Borzoi (Robert Hart) asking the audience to laugh when the LAUGH light comes on, and that “if you laugh when the light is off, that makes you a racist.” He further asks the audience to take out their cell phones and other electronic devices and turn them on, and if a call comes in, to feel free to continue their conversation because, indicating the stage on which the 90-minute action is on the point of taking place, “None of this matters.” How many people (not just Americans, of course) would rather have any distraction than confront the racism endemic to their society and their own!( Oddly enough, I didn’t hear a single cell phone ring during the show, and I’m glad it wasn’t mine! I was wondering if the cast had a devastating pre-planned response if and when that happened.)

Jalen K. Stewart and Robert Hart/Cooper Bates

We meet two 14-year-old black boys, Marquis (Jalen K. Stewart) and Tru (Brent Grimes), in the compound after Borzoi takes them in – Marquis for trespassing in a cemetery at night (even as the two white pals school with him escaped unscathed), and Tru for “being black”. These two young men come from completely different worlds. Marquis is a prep school student who wears his antiquated school uniform and lives in the affluent suburb of Achievement Heights, Maryland, while Tru is a street-savvy kid from the inner depths of Baltimore.

Tru decides that Marquis has lost her “blackness” in everything but her skin color. He assumes the role of teacher, but Marquis, who has been adopted by a blonde and white mother, proves a resistant student. He knows and cares little or nothing about black culture and is totally absorbed in his academy’s white European curriculum. He is currently obsessed with Nietzsche and the dialectic between Apollonian and Dionysian consciousness. The only homage he pays to the Black experience, other than his hairstyle (which is perhaps more the choice of the actor than the director), is that he participates in the game of striking poses, most often “Trayvonning,” meaning lying in the position Trayvon Martin was found in after his murder, an über-ironic gesture of simultaneous mockery, representation, and memory that no white boy could get away with. shoot.

Tru’s historical role model is philosopher and role model, rapper 2Pac (Tupac Amaru Shakur, 1971-1996), who grew up in Baltimore and was active in the CPUSA-affiliated Young Communist League in the 1980s. edification of Marquis, Tru composes a practical manual titled “Being Black for Dummies”, with rules and standards on voice, language, dress, position, attitude, manhood, sexual behavior and social. They butt heads, argue, struggle, and eventually come to the conclusion that Nietzsche and 2pac were basically saying the same thing!

Hooded uses comedy to bring us into a world where we take a deep and empowering look at race and how we deal with the tragedies of prejudice and stereotypes,” says director Ahmed Best. “It builds a world where we can challenge our perception and beliefs about each other and discover the sameness in our differences.” This approach, to me, seems all too happy and too congratulatory to the public: most of the soul-searching that needs to take place in our extremely unequal world has to come from the side of the oppressor, not the oppressed.

Asked about his fondness for satire, playwright Chisholm said, “My philosophy is ‘life is funny…until it’s not.’ And I use that philosophy in my writing. I tend to approach most topics with humor. I think comedy can be a powerful tool in drama and change.

Marquis’ world is more developed. We meet her mother Debra (Tasha Ames), her white classmates Hunter (Vincent Loud) and Fielder (Ezekiel Goodman), and a group of three white academy girls (Meadow—Clare Margaret Donovan; Prairie—also played by Tasha Ames; and Clementine, her budding love – Betsy Stewart), as well as manager Burns (also played by Vincent Doud). On Tru’s side, he invites Marquis to his Baltimore hood, and even to his mother’s house, but she works, leaving behind only her perfume and a perfume. to clean house, which Marquis did not expect.

Something else Marquis didn’t expect was that when he threw Tru’s manual aside, a most unlikely character discovered it and took it very seriously. (I can’t say more here.)

Every performance in the play is truly remarkable. As Marquis, Stewart is hilariously ignorant of the signifiers of blackness in America, but sooner or later America will show that it is not ignorant of Marquis’ blackness, however misinformed it may be on the subject. cultural level. (I can’t say more about that either.) As Tru, Grimes has it all figured out perfectly, but inevitably the question has to be asked, isn’t there more than one way to be black in America? And of course there are – Borzoi the cop is black too! – because ultimately there is not only one way to be anything. The rest of the cast is also very good.

The scenography is by Song Yi Park, who manages with few accessories to evoke a large number of sets. Lighting is by Matt Richter, sound design by Alysha Grace Bermudez, costume design by Elena Flores. The casting director is Tal Fox and the graphic design is by Christopher Komuro. The production manager is Danielle Jaramillo.

Tearrance playwright Arvelle Chisholm / Teddy Wolff

Chisholm wrote a number of other plays, including PYG, BRuh cotton, Anacostia Street Lions, Authority of the Dark Lady and Black Dick. I will watch over them. He has also written for a number of television series and is currently developing his own show, the sci-fi comedy-drama. Unmaskswith AMC and Gran Via Productions.

Echo Theater Company Hooded plays until April 18, Friday, Saturday. and Mon. 8 p.m. and Sun. 4 p.m. at the Atwater Village Theater, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles 90039. Parking is free in the Atwater Crossing lot (AXT) one block south of the theater. Monday performances are Pay-What-You-Want. Proof of full vaccination (including booster if eligible) or negative PCR test within 72 hours and valid ID are required for admission. Spectators must remain fully masked throughout the performances. For tickets and other information, call 310-307-3753 or visit www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.


Eric A. Gordon


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