Now Look Who's Coming to Dinner

The Multiracial Family Saga of Black Like Us


Brendan Kiley does not suffer fools when it comes to his reviews, so it is a relief to read an insightful and fairly spot-on assessment of this very "Seattle" play about a Black woman's decision to pass for white.

The piece certainly has a future and I look forward to continuing my creative courtship with Ms. Atkins and to develop and produce the piece beyond this initial premier - which runs through March 1st at Annex Theatre -

Now look who's coming to dinner indeed.

Tyrone Brown
Co-Producer in association with Brownbox Theatre
This is a lovely review of a text. I feel slightly short-changed by it as a review of a piece of theater; almost no mention of the performance, as such, is made therein. I certainly don't begrudge the playwright the attention, and her work is certainly a part of what I look forward to engaging with when I attend next weekend, but I'd be curious to know if Kiley had any thoughts on any or all of the things that make this ... well, not a book.
I grew up with a guy who decided to pass as White. He secretly had a vasectomy just before he got married so he wouldn’t have to explain any children who may turn out dark, like his ebony-hued older brother. He cut himself from his family of origin, especially his brother, but including his parents, grandparents, and all of his siblings. He became an attorney but could never pursue public office or too much prominence lest his secret come out. He stayed in the shadows, which surprised all who knew him because he was smart, obviously talented, gregarious, and had strong leadership potential.

This is what came to my mind after seeing Black Like Us. Not so much about Romeo and Juliet, rather the impact of secrets. Since race is a political and not a biological construct, what happens when people who have claimed a certain sociopolitical and economic position in the world discover they have done so illegitimately? Do they continue as poseurs, opportunistically explore a redefinition and look for ways of advantage, stand afraid and utterly confused, or some and all of the above? What responsibility sits with those who keep the pact of secrecy over generations? What of the secrets within secrets? Like adoptees finding their birth parents for the first time (or vice versa), the battle between intellectual and emotional response, joy and fear, confusion and clarity are all present. Those are what I took away as the core questions explored in this play.

“Passing” to gain sociopolitical and economic advantage is true in many communities, even today. Good on the playwright and director for letting us sit with the resulting confusion.
Last weekend I saw Black Like Us and was moved to tears twice, laughter too many times to count. I have to say, I was a bit surprised that it was mostly black people standing to applause at the end and I fully expected a complete standing ovation when I popped up at the end and I felt angry about it.

I was like "Are you kidding me?" I talked with someone afterward (white and someone I respect a lot ) and they sort of hemmed and hawed a little before saying something about it being slightly didactic, and while I do agree it had some gentle undertones of teaching, I thoroughly enjoyed this work and I felt that it was an important and historical piece that could become a national success.

While it's true I am not a theater academic by any means, it just seemed to reek of white privilege and I just wanted to yell "stand the fuck up" because not only was it a witty, well done piece, it seemed like a victory that the story was finally being told.

As I left the theater of mostly whites and went out into the street below I noticed a lot of black people on the street that may never have had the chance to enter into the theater world and I thought perhaps they might have appreciated the piece, that maybe if there were more people of color in the audience the cast could have enjoyed the standing ovation they deserved, not because they were black but because it's a story that needs to be told and heard. Clearly, white people still need to be taught.
Okay I feel like an A hole right now because I realized that I completely omitted the long history of black theater and now I feel like a total douche – no, I am a douche. Seriously, I don't know shit. Here, I'll leave a record for all to see, the more I talk the more I realize the less I know. I should just shut up now.
After experiencing (and greatly enjoying) the play last weekend, and now reading this review and comments, I'm struck by how thought-provoking the play really is. It makes me curious about both the fictional stories of the characters on stage and the real humans outside the theatre that those characters represent. (It would be lovely if Annex could host some sort of post-play discussion once a week or something like that)

Up to a point I can go along with the reviewer's criticisms in terms of some pacing issues and some transitions that could have been smoother or faster, but I can forgive a lot of that for it being opening night. I agree with the earlier comment that the review is lacking in a description of the theatrical experience of the play. Reading the review I kept thinking "OK but don't you think you should let people know just how damn enjoyable it was to sit in that theatre?" I'm pretty sure I was there on the same night as the reviewer, and it was clear to me that the audience (or the vast majority anyway) was really enjoying it - a lot of big genuine laughs (that the actors sometimes didn't hold long enough for) and some sideways uncomfortable ones, and some very palpable tension, and a few tears.

A brief reply to DreamCatcher - I think you're reading too much into people's decision whether to give a standing ovation. I thoroughly loved the play, and I love the fact that it's putting more black actors on stage and more black butts in theatre seats, and I felt very satisfied and respectful at the end of the play ... but I didn't stand up. Standing O's are bizarre sociological phenomena that in my experience have only a small correlation with the quality of the performance. They certainly shouldn't be interpreted as a racial snub - I can imagine a lot of reasons why you might see more black audience members standing and clapping than white ones, and most of those reasons don't have anything to do with racism.

Where I strongly agree with the review (and with the first comment here) is that this play deserves to have a lot of people see it, both here and hopefully elsewhere in other productions. Go see it, and then talk about it - you'll want to.
Almost forgot ... skip the first paragraph of the review, seriously. Romeo and Juliet? Star-crossed lovers? And the suggestion that the question of what would have happened if star-crossed lovers lived long enough to have kids is the *central question* of "Black Like Us" ... I mean WTF? I'm tempted to think that a couple of sentences got edited out of that paragraph and someone then forgot to clean it up for consistency. The play has almost nothing to do with the not-really-star-crossed lovers, and I'm not sure I could proclaim what its central question is, but I'm pretty sure it's not that.

We're working on scheduling a post-play talkback, probably sometime during the final week. Clearly, people have a strong desire to talk about this, and we'd like to provide that forum.