Let’s play ten fingers.
Never have I ever in my personal history of play going never have I ever walked out on a show.
However, last night during intermission of THE RIVER WAS WISKEY I did. To be fully honest I left the building, but after asking the usher how much longer the second act was—I decided to stay. After all it was only 30 mins. long, and I had come all this way. I gave the production a chance to redeem itself, but alas that never happened. As a theatre critic/ artist I had to figure out why a production written and directed by two artists whose work I respect failed so miserably.
The scenic design was superb, one of the better sets I’ve seen in a while. The backbone of the direction was alive, and there wonderful images. The text and story line were engrossing, and yet I wanted to gouge my eyes out. Mark Cohen would’ve been disappointed in me because I stifled so many impulses. I came to realize that it was the acting.
The play opens with a wet-oily black man in overalls, looking possessed, and crawling through the window of a “pastor’s” home. The physically of this actor was present—clearly over worked, but a definite choice was made. The more this performer worked the more my feelings of disgust arose. Here was a black actor portraying minstrel tendencies, behaving like an animal. An image that angers me. I always have to be careful when I categorize something a being minstrel—I feel I don’t know enough about it for that. So I tried to reconsider the label I placed on it, and questioned whether it was the writing calling for this behavior or was it direction. I soon came to realize it was neither. IT WAS JUST BAD ACTING.
It wasn’t just the black actor’s acting poorly. It was bad acting across the board. There were absolutely NO STAKES. Each actor performed as if he knew all of the answers, and that they were not in the other person at all. No actions were played. The basic fundamentals of acting were non-existent.
What really struck me was the performance of this black actor. There is a common trend that I notice in much of my work and the work for fellow black artists, there’s constantly this element of “performance” that lives in our work. I know for myself my racial identity is deeply apart of me, but all to often the workspace and the world of theatre ignores race– we are “post-racial” remember? I am not saying it needs to be the core of any project, but I am saying it needs to be talked about. It’s hard to deliver an honest performance, when in your everyday life you’re forced to perform a certain role. This does not excuse bad acting, but it simply presents an issue that I as a black actor have experienced.