Review: The Submission
A white playwright crosses racial lines in this sharp dramedy.
Wed Sep 28 2011
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
As anyone who has watched a recent GOP presidential debate knows, it's a swell time to be an angry white American. Sparing killers on death row? Subsidizing failed urban infrastructures? Paying for poor folks' medical bills when they're too lazy to work? As audiences around the country have so eloquently put it: "Boo!" Danny Larsen (Groff), the manipulative playwright in Jeff Talbott's sharp, punchy dramedy The Submission, is not likely to vote for Perry or Bachmann, but he's worse: a presumably liberal artist whose occasional racist jokey asides belie contemptuous unease with ethnic and cultural difference.
Notably, Talbott omits Danny's exact political sympathies, and those of his boyfriend, Pete (Thomas), and includes an anecdote in which Danny recalls being mocked by black youths on the subway for having shoes "a homo would wear." He says this ugly encounter inspired his latest piece, about "an alcoholic black mother and her cardsharp son trying to get out of the projects." The theme is a radical departure for Danny, who invents an African-American female pseudonym to submit his play to festivals. When Humana accepts it, Danny needs a black face to cover his white scheme. Enter the wary Emilie (Wesley), an actor willing to be hired as his front. Predictably, as Emilie rehearses the play in Louisville, she starts to feel authorial envy, and the limits of authorship and representation are soon tested.
This is a blunt but juicy premise, and director Walter Bobbie gives the MCC Theater production an optimal level of gloss and comic bounce. Talbott, an actor turned writer, can script witty, barbed repartee and a dynamic four-way shouting match. And while Wesley (from True Blood) has verve and savvy to spare, Talbott pulls his punches with her character, damning the selfish Danny, but leaving Emilie fairly unscathed—and underdeveloped. For a tale that needs satirical teeth, The Submission is short a row.