|Robert Cuccioli and Danielle Leneé|
There are some unsettling arguments in the first third of Bruce Graham’s terrific and powerful play, White Guy On The Bus. The arguments are unsettling for everyone on stage and most of us in the audience in that - are-WE-allowed to say that? - kind of way. But these questions are ultimately important because they go to the root of this incisive play.
Roz and Ray are a well off suburban white couple living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Ray is a financial numbers guy, ready to move to the next phase of life; maybe retirement, but definitely spending more quality time with his wife. Roz is perfectly content with their current life, lifestyle and work. She is a teacher in an urban, primarily poor, black high school. They are joined for drinks one night by Christopher and Molly, a younger couple. Christopher is the young man who was raised next door and views Ray and Roz as surrogate parents. Molly is his new wife, a teacher at an all girls, very rich private school.
The discussions in question revolve around Roz and Molly’s ideas towards minorities, the opportunities they have and the choices we all make. Roz is smart but unyielding, and delivers damning accusations under the banner of “telling it like it is.” Molly is a modern liberal who tries to defend her ideals against Roz’ real world experiences. The reason this argument is difficult to watch is that these are two white women of privilege, who both acknowledge it, and both make excellent arguments.
The discussions they have is one that “nice” people don't have in public. This is make doubly clear by the efforts the men make to turn the conversation to other topics. What makes it even more angst producing, is that Roz is a better debater, more experienced and yet makes the more racially based points. The audience wants her to be wrong, even as you know she reaches out to change the world for the better more than we do or Molly can.
|L-R: Susan McKey, Jessica Bedford, Robert Cuccioli and Jonathan Silver in WHITE GUY ON THE BUS. Photo by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.|
A concurrent story plays out with Ray, the numbers guy, riding a bus and starting a conversation and ultimately a friendship with a young black woman, Shatique. Ray is the White Guy On The Bus and Shatique is a single mother, attending nursing school to better her life. In the meantime, Shaitque's son lives with her own mother in a better neighborhood with a better school district until she finishes school.
Saying how these worlds intersect would give too much away. However, it is fair to say they don’t collide as expected, but meld like two spotlights ultimately ending up on the same target.
The acting here is fantastic. As Ray, Robert Cuccioli brings subtlety, passion and quiet depth to his role. Shatique is play by Danielle Leneé with a minimum of stereotyping and makes every moment feel real. Susan McKey plays Roz, perhaps the hardest role. Roz is a great teacher and is dedicated to her students, but still can be a harsh and prickly debater. Ms. McKey pulls this off well, with a huge hat tip to playwright Bruce Graham’s work. Jessica Bradford and Jonathan Silver do fine work as the younger couple Molly and Christopher, but their characters take a more obvious arc.
Director Bud Martin does a wonderful job with these actors, this delicate story and minimal staging. Keeping the pieces separate but intersecting is not easy, but he handles it with precision and aplomb. White Guy on The Bus is definitely worth the trip to 59 E 59 theaters. I promise it will stay with you long after you leave.
White Guy On The Bus | Playwright: Bruce Graham | Director: Bud Martin | Cast: Robert Cuccioli, Jessica Bedford, Danielle Leneé, Susan McKey, Jonathan Silver