Meridith Friedman tackles race in politics in a new drama at Stage Left.
Conversations about race can derail civil discourse. Rather than face the issues head on, people suppress their feelings or sidestep with awkward humor. It becomes a topic best not mentioned—unless you must. For Patrick and Gabby, the interracial power couple at the center of The Firestorm, they must.
He’s running for governor, she’s partner at a law firm. He’s a “heck of a guy” Midwesterner and she’s a no-nonsense East Coast Ivy Leaguer. Together they create an unstoppable political machine, driven by mutual respect, ambition and love.
Of course, their idyllic existence can’t last.
A racially charged stunt from Patrick’s college days slams into their perfect world, sending everything into question. Is Gabby a prop for Patrick? Do his parent’s charmingly off-color comments belie a deeper problem? How will the polls respond?
Patrick, the white gubernatorial candidate with everything to lose, stands at the center of The Firestorm, but Gabby sits in the play’s heart. From its first moments, Friedman pushes us to engage with Gabby as an outsider. An affluent black woman living in a white world, Gabby has always known privilege and security—but doesn’t quite fit. The addition of Patrick’s stupid frat boy antics unlocks normally undiscussable topics. New York–based playwright Meridith Friedman, who earned her M.F.A. at Northwestern, smartly uses political optics to create a conversation about America’s most volatile subject, but the play’s heat gets doused by parboiled intrigues.
It’s hard not to think of all the Underwoods or Popes or Blagojeviches or Clintons that exist in fictional and real worlds while watching a political drama like this. Those sometimes jovial, mostly serious characters live in an atmosphere of tension. Vance Smith’s broad-stroke affability and Kanome Jones’s near-robotic certitude make it hard to imagine Patrick and Gabby as ever having made it out of bush league primaries. They're victims of Drew Martin’s tone-deaf production, which, though capably staged, lacks gravity. A marriage and a political career become engulfed in a firestorm of racial tension—and it all comes across as just another bad day at the office.
Stage Left Theatre at Theatre Wit. By Meridith Friedman. Directed by Drew Martin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.