‘a provocative look at race and class [that makes for] a challenging watch’
Bruce Graham’s White Guy on the Bus receives its European Premiere at the Finborough Theatre in a tremendously convincing performance directed by Jelena Budimir. As timely as ever, this provocative look at race and class in the playwright’s hometown of Philadelphia is a challenging watch, giving space for much needed dialogue about the forms of oppression that are not overt, but no less exist.
Following financier Ray (Donald Sage Mackay), a restless soul who wants something other than to make ‘rich people richer,’ and his inner-city teacher wife, Roz (Samantha Coughlan) begins, seemingly, as an examination of race through the eyes of white liberals living in different parts of Philadelphia, but morphs into something – without giving away the plot – that is both unforeseen and affecting.
Hosting dinner parties for Christopher (Carl Stone) – a ‘son’ to Ray and Roz – and his fiancé Molly (Marina Bye), conversation frequently turns into heated debates as Molly and Roz come to loggerheads. The women represent opposing world views, which can be boiled down to idealism versus realism, yet each fail to acknowledge their own condescension and hypocrisy: whilst Molly views all minorities as victims of circumstance, Roz stops herself from wanting to blow her brains out by making light of the students who robbed a store the previous weekend.
At times these arguments, which dominate the first half of the piece, feel a little didactic and on the nose. Nevertheless, the twist before the interval moves this into unexpected territory, with Ray’s developing relationship to Shatique (Joanna McGibbon) ultimately acting as the prime source of tension.
Sure to get a reaction from any audience, White Guy builds to an uncomfortable and uneasy conclusion. Provoking a necessary conversation to be had about race, be it here or in the US, it nonetheless works best as a mystery, Graham’s superb structuring placing ongoing rhetoric in the guise of a new wrapper.
Reviewer Dionne Farrell currently works in Television and Film production, with a real passion for theatre. When not spectating, she is either performing with a local am-dram group, or trying to write for the stage!