‘White Guy on the Bus’ review

Theatre, Drama
2 out of 5 stars
White Guy On The Bus, Finborough
© Helen Maybanks Carl Stone and Samantha Coughlan

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

A provocative but far-fetched US drama about an elaborate revenge plot

Ray is a rich stockbroker; his wife Roz is a sparky schoolteacher lauded for working with disadvantaged kids. They live in a white, well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia, but she teaches in a predominantly black area rife with crime and violence.

But Roz is no bleeding-heart liberal: she’s bullish and plain-speaking. She moans about white people being silenced by a political correctness, and defends her right to make jokes about her pupils’ bad behaviour – but is also genuinely determined to help, whatever it takes. Her views are aired in prickly dinners with Christopher – once the couple’s neighbour, now something of a de facto son – and his unthinkingly right-on partner Molly, easily wound up by Roz’s needling.

These scenes are intercut with mysterious encounters between Ray and a poor but hardworking young black woman, Shatique, on a bus going to a prison. Weirdly, Ray never gets off the bus to visit anyone in the jail. Eventually, we realise Bruce Graham’s play has a slippery timescale, and these scenes occur after the death of Roz at the hands of a student. Ray is out for revenge – and he sees Shatique as the key.

Graham attempts to give his knotty debates about inequality, opportunity and prejudice a shot in the heart with this dramatic twist. But the revenge plot feels implausible and rather muddies his arguments. While Ray reveals an out-and-out racism, the question of whether that was always simmering beneath his affable exterior is impossible to really explore when he’s obviously almost insane with grief.

Sarah Jane Booth’s design places bus seats in the same space as the couple’s home and the action bleeds in Jelena Budimir’s overlapping direction. But there’s some awkward blocking in the talkier scenes, and the play feels ill-fitting, its arguments never quite zipped up.

Canadian actor Samantha Coughlan is excellently brisk as Roz: we see her pleasure in playing devil’s advocate, but also her conviction that one must take the world as you find it if you’re to honestly improve it; sadly her main sparring partner, Marina Bye’s Molly, is so vague and stilted her naivety often reads as slight dimness. Donald Sage Mackay as Ray has chemistry with Coughlan, but when his character shifts to villain mode, it can’t help but seem melodramatic in scenes which even Joanna McGibbon as Shatique – superbly controlled, bright and shaded – struggles to make believable.  

By: Holly Williams

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