Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist + Cleansed
Thu Feb 15 2007
Photograph: Ryan Elliot Kravetz
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Perhaps your average night at the theater doesn’t include screams of “nigger monkeys!” and “black-skinned beasts!” but Thomas Bradshaw’s does. The playwright-provocateur (whose Purity ran recently at P.S. 122) presents a wickedly shocking double bill that unapologetically flaunts racial conflict. A late Southern senator’s absurd life of hypocrisy unfurls in Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist, while Cleansed tells the shattering tale of a biracial Midwestern girl whose self-hatred leads her to the KKK.
Director Jos Zayas smartly arranges his actors in the intimate brick-lined space for his resourceful production; they run in circles, slam against the red walls and cower in dark corners. The director’s boldness enhances the immediacy of Bradshaw’s unsettling, grotesque portrait of whites fighting blacks.
The performers—three in Strom and eight in Cleansed—are equally brave. Hugh Sinclair makes the case for a sympathetic and misguided Thurmond with surprising subtlety and command. (If he looks more like Chris Cooper than the actual politician, so much the better.) The standout performance in Cleansed comes from the energetic Barrett Doss. Playing the confused child of a black father and white mother, Doss transforms strikingly from schoolyard rag doll to militant supremacist. Overall, this Immediate Theatre Company production is impressive: Sound designer Jeremy Wilson’s palette ranges from 1920s jazz to contemporary grindcore, and set designer Ryan Elliot Kravetz achieves refinement on an evidently lean budget. Bradshaw doesn’t deliver a normal night out, but his outrages are worth every second of discomfort. — Kerri Allen