On The Bus
Finborough Theatre Spring 2018
It may sometimes seem that there is nothing new to say about America's ongoing tragedy of race relations. But there are new ways of saying it, and by approaching the subject obliquely and from several directions at once, Bruce Graham's play illuminates it in fresh and dramatically engrossing ways.
Much of the play's first act is devoted to conversations among two well-off, well-educated white couples.
One husband is a successful businessman functioning in a nearly all-white world, while the other is an academic studying images of African-Americans in advertising and popular culture. Both wives are teachers, one in an inner-city (i.e. substandard and almost all black) school and the other in a posh all-girls academy.
All are sincere liberals, honestly concerned about the racial inequities in society and able to express themselves eloquently both in agreement and debate. The conversations are good, raising and acknowledging serious issues, and they are saved from irrelevance by everyone's painful awareness that they all speak from the protected privilege of being white and middle class.
At the same time, it seems, one of the husbands gains new perspective on race in America by frequently riding the same bus that wives, mothers, sisters and girlfriends, virtually all black, ride to see their men on the local prison's visiting day.
And then, about midway through the play, Graham pulls off a startling and effective coup de theatre by redefining the play's timeline in a way that makes us re-evaluate and reinterpret everything we've seen before.
I really do not want to give anything more away except to say that in the process he also introduces a new plot line that addresses what it is to be white and black in America in startling new ways.
White Guy On The Bus stands above other 'thesis' or 'problem' plays by keeping everything anchored in the reality of all the characters' everyday lives so they resist any impulse we may have to type or pigeonhole them and never become just mouthpieces or symbols.
At least two of the characters will make decisions that will forever define them as moral human beings, while the others will be aware of how their relative passivity carries moral implications.
Under Jelena Budimir's sensitive and smooth-moving direction a strong cast led by Donald Sage Mackay and Joanna McGibbon keep the play dramatically alive while doing full justice to its ideas.
The play is not perfect – there are a few too many unresolved loose ends and unintegrated digressions – but it is one more example (among many over the years) of this tiny above-a-pub theatre introducing London to a play of quality and importance the richer and more subsidised venues should have been finding.
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Review - White Guy On The Bus - Finborough Theatre 2018