Aired on KSDS-FM on 6/14/19
RUN DATES: 5/3019 – 6/30/19
VENUE: The Old Globe
The ground beneath our feet is shifting. Things are changing at an alarming rate. Instability leads to uncertainty, and poses a threat to identity, dignity and self-worth.
Behold the white working-class American male. Everything he believed was right, was his due, is slipping away. His long-term employment loyalty counts for little. Technology is making his job obsolete. Fear, frustration and anger are roiling just beneath the surface.
Don, a husband and father in small-town Nevada, has been at his job for a long time, working with his hands, building, installing. He’s confident that he’s good at what he does – and doesn’t need a college degree to do it. But now, he’s being edged out by “efficacy rankings” and algorithms. And when the supercilious Mexican American summa cum laude from Stanford accuses him of racism, he snaps. Next thing you know, he’s out of a job and facing a lawsuit.
Don may come from a decidedly judgmental family, but he has an African American wife and mixed race daughter, each of whom tries to fix the situation in her own way. So what we get is multiple perspectives on what’s true, what’s owed, what’s generally going on in our society.
Playwright JC Lee has put a lot of layers in his drama, “What You Are,” commissioned by The Old Globe. In what sometimes feels like a sitcom setup, he’s inserted a ton of hot-button topics: race, class, educational and political disparity, institutional hierarchy, white supremacy, alt-right radio, debt to family, and the power of sexual and monetary blackmail.
There are a few clumsy spots and forced moments, but by and large, the situations are provocative and the dialogue is crackling.
Patricia McGregor, a skillful director, uses the White Theatre’s arena space very effectively; her characters stalk the stage like predatory beasts. The cast of five is outstanding, with Jonathan Walker endlessly compelling as Don. Each character preaches a worldview, but our sympathies and loyalties are altered by sly turns of events.
Lee has created a microcosm of modern-day America, replete with yelling, cursing, flailing, failing and violence. It’s not a particularly pretty picture, but it’s a pretty accurate one.
©2019 PAT LAUNER