"Brownie Points" by Janece Shaffer, at Taproot Theatre through June 19, 2011.
THEATER REVIEW |
What could be more treacherous and uncomfortable than a heated interracial exchange about race in America? Yet sometimes it’s a conversation you can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid.
In her insightful comedy, “Brownie Points,” playwright Janece Shaffer doesn’t let her five Atlanta women characters off the hook. Actually, she traps them in an isolated cabin in the woods with an (unseen) Brownie troop of restive first-graders, and forces the topic upon them.
A bit contrived? Sure. But in Taproot Theatre’s very amusing and thoughtful production of “Brownie Points,” that’s forgivable as these smart, well-meaning gals — two African American, one Jewish, two white Christians — struggle to answer that resonant Rodney King question: Can we all get along? In this case, even for one night?
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Though these women are on the surface familiar “types” you might see in one of the better TV sitcoms, they have enough quirks and humanity to stay interesting throughout, and enough wit to keep you chuckling.
There’s Allison (a tightly wound Casi Wilkerson), the micromanaging troop leader who has planned this outing down to the last burnt marshmallow. The more relaxed Nicole (a bubbly Karen Ann Daniels), wife of a former sports star; stressed-out single mother Sue (a sardonic Nikki Visel); and Jamie (a wry Amy Love), the insecure, daffy Jewish mom, joke and kibitz and try to go with the flow.
But when the imposing, proud surgeon Deidre (Faith Russell, who nearly steals the show) turns up a few hours late for the outing, worlds collide.
The assignment of all K.P. duty to Deidre and Nicole (who are, along with being black, the wealthiest women present) raises Nicole’s ire. And when the race card gets played, every interaction gets loaded with cultural and racial baggage, as the women try to explain themselves, empathize with each other, and keep an innocent sleep-away from turning into a disaster.
To Shaffer’s credit, there’s no flaming bigot present in this rustic cabin designed by Mark Lund. Instead, “Brownie Points” intelligently probes how far we have to go in acknowledging one another’s reality — even those among us who profess to be without prejudice. (As Sue points out, the only thing worse than calling a liberal white woman a racist is branding her a pedophile.)
The play also considers how difficult it is to lower one’s guard and establish mutual trust in a pluralistic society, along with the usual questions about what it means these days to be a good parent.
Thank heaven these den mothers can laugh, at themselves and each other, and get us to join in. (Shaffer has a great ear for current chat.)
In the hands of this uniformly able cast, and within Karen Lund’s well-paced staging, every quip and slight comes across brightly. And if in the end, the characters stop just short of joining hands to sing “Kumbaya,” we’re rooting for them, and for more of the same offstage.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org