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BY JENN McKEE
Regulars at the Matrix Theatre might not be surprised to learn that Rachel Lynett’s darkly comic play, “Well-Intentioned White People,” initially caught the attention of Matrix Theatre’s artistic director, Megan Buckley-Ball, by way of its in-your-face title.
“We found it on the New Play Exchange,” said Buckley-Ball, referring to an online service provided by the National New Play Network. “Since Matrix has a specific mission to foster social justice, the Exchange has been a fantastic resource for us to find work by playwrights who are responding to what’s happening right now within their communities. … (Lynett’s play’s) title was incredibly intriguing to me, and the people who are calling for tickets seem to agree.”
“Well-Intentioned White People” focuses on a black lesbian professor, Cass, who one day finds the N-word keyed onto her car. Cass simply wants to get her car fixed and put the ugly incident behind her, but several white, well-intentioned allies – her roommate/ex-girlfriend; a dean; a student activist; and a transgender colleague – push her to talk about it publicly, and instead use the incident as a political rallying cry.
“Rachel Lynett obviously does not shy away from being blunt and keeping it real,” said Buckley-Ball. “There is a true victim in this show, and we get to see how people of color, and members of LGBTQ-plus communities, have to normalize the attacks they go through every single day just to get through each day. As far as this show is concerned, there’s no room for tiptoeing. These are real things that are happening. … The characters’ emotions are raw and real, and they speak their truth.”
Buckley-Ball added that the play is “very new property” as it just had its world premiere in Massachusetts only a few months ago. Because of that, there’s been a possibility for collaboration with Lynett directly.
“We’ve been in contact quite a bit,” said Buckley-Ball. “She’s done some script updates for us, which has been great, and she’s helped talk us through what’s going on in specific scenes and specific lines.”
Script adjustments involved, in part, making a transmasculine AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth) character into a transfeminine AMAB one, since Matrix’s production team had been struggling with casting the role.
“We cast Julia Lynn Marsh, who’s a transgender performer, but in the other direction – male-to-female,” said Buckley-Ball. “Rachel was fantastic and talked us through the process of our casting difficulties, and optimized the script for this change, so there would be nothing awkward.”
Of course, neither Lynett’s play nor Matrix’s production team aim to discourage white allies from taking action. Instead, they hope to encourage conversation about the best means of working toward positive change.
“For Dean West and for Viv, Cass’ ex-girlfriend, it’s a sense of empathy that propels them to do something,” said Buckley-Ball. “But what they don’t recognize is that what they’re doing is making it worse. Yes, they’re calling more attention to the issue, but while they’re doing that, Cass is receiving heightened racial threats on a daily basis – which she keeps from them. … We see this all the time. A race crime occurs, and we write on Facebook about how horrible it is, and our activism stops there. … It doesn’t do anything, really, but call more attention to the victim. So the overall message of the show is that allies can help … but there are probably better ways to help.”
And although Buckley-Ball knows that some may find the play’s title offensive, she noted, “We do not want people to feel attacked when they enter the building. … We want people to come with an open mind. … We always want the curtain call to be the beginning of the audience’s experience, so they’re talking about the play on the drive home, or doing research on what they saw when they are back in front of their computer. We really hope the show provides food for thought.”
“Well-Intentioned White People” will be shown at the Matrix Theatre located 2730 Bagley Ave. in Detroit. Tickets are $22 adults and $17 for students, seniors, veterans and active military personnel. Reach out for more information by calling 313-967-0599 or visiting matrixtheatre.org.