Saturday, November 25, 2006


Many Hats Collaboration
Reviewed by Followspot November 24, 2006; closes December 9, 2006 extended through December 30, 2006

Raw around the edges (transitions that'll tighten over time; ultimate transformation that'd be interesting to explore a little further), but many seriously funny moments of intimate integrity make this premiere a racy mix of the pleasing and the provocative. Smart choreography by Jessica Wallenfels and the Dance Ensemble, Betsy Cross.


Anonymous said...

I thought this show was, in general, a smart and daring attempt by a young, not-entirely-polished, playwright to 'deconstruct' race in America today, especially as defined and refracted through the funhouse mirrors of the media. The show is NOT pitch perfect. A few apparent anachronisms (e.g., I don't think "whitey" is a currently used epithet, but I could be wrong) and some confusion about current cultural lines muddy the theme, more than once. But, all in all, MUTT found a way to talk smart about race in ways we avoid. And performances were crisp and compelling throughout. No false steps by the actors ever took me out of the story.

Which brings up an interesting moment. At intermission, a young black woman sitting in my row clearly and loudly proclaimed how uncomfortable this show made her, surrounded as she was by white people in the audience, whom she took to be laughing at jokes that she thought they were taking literally, as good information about what it means to be black. She felt sure the playwright was shooting too far "over the audience's head," and that the audience just couldn't handle irony. I wasn't so sure, (though in general, I'm not one to over-estimate audiences' intelligence). Certainly, I felt capable of following the irony, though she was quite unhappy that I'd been "laughing my ass off," apparently clueless, during the first act.

Funny how I felt more constrained in my laughter during the second act, unsure if this censorious, self-important theater goer--who, by the way, was playing the race card herself, with disturbing agility--would deem me capable of 'getting it.' Whether she was right about me or not, I don't know. But, I don't think she does, either.

james said...

i'm curious: what do you mean when you say that the woman's comments were "playing the race card"? it sounds to me like she was voicing her opinion about the show. which seems valid and a highly likely thing to occur at intermission. i didn't witness the event in question, but it hardly seems like an expression of discomfort (at whatever volume) is "censorious" and "self-important".

now, in the interest of full disclosure, i have not yet seen the full production of 'Mutt' (i will soonly, very much looking forward to it!). i did attend one of the staged readings, so please take my comments with that caveat.

when i heard it read, i wondered about the number and kind of laughs in the show. i didn’t expect to laugh that much. and it felt to me like it makes for a kind of distancing from the issues that are evident in the script. i felt like i could laugh at the thoughts and situations involving race, instead of being confronted with what preconceptions of race or what racism may exist in me through the portrayal of these (sometimes very uncomfortable) moments in the character's life.

and it feels to me like the playwright's intent was something other than what i expected (which, in turn, made me question other preconceptions of mine). i felt that Alapai's script invites us into Serena's experiences with race and identity, which ended up working for me. however, it did make me uncomfortable at the reading. i haven't seen enough understanding or acknowledgment of racism in our community to feel comfortable laughing as often. many of the things that take place in 'Mutt' don't seem to have yet gone away...

i really love what you said about your experience in the second act being altered by an audience member's take on the show. i think that's the great piece about live theater. the audience is and can be an active participant in the event. if it made you question what you were seeing and how you were perceiving it, kudos!

Anonymous said...

I felt she was "playing the race card" by sternly voicing a categorical assumption that the whites in the audience were'nt 'getting it,' an assumption she seemed clear about (she wasn't questioning her assumption, but asserting it.) She set herself up as an instant expert on race, relying heavily on the implied authority that came with being black in a mostly (but far from all) white audience.

On reconsideration, I can say that I find it easy to imagine being the only Jew in a group of non-Jews in a discussion of the middle east, and feeling threatened by the very conversation. In fact, when I went to see DIRTY STORY, I felt nervous and on the edge of anger just walking in the theater, unsure as I was the ability of a non-Jewish playwright to treat Israel with some degree of fairness. By intermission at DIRTY STORY, I'd found enough in the play to calm me down, but I can easily imagine having not found it--simply because I walked in defensively--even it was there.

So, perhaps my initial reaction to this woman's own, apparent defensiveness lacked empathy. Something for me to chew on.

Yah. Live theater is cool.

Anonymous said...

i really love what you said about your experience in the second act being altered by an audience member's take on the show. i think that's the great piece about live theater. the audience is and can be an active participant in the event. if it made you question what you were seeing and how you were perceiving it, kudos!
You've got to be kidding. Everyone works on a show, including the author/performer and then you think it's great that one audience member takes a half formed opinion of a show (it's intermission) and takes the audience out of whatever place all the people working on that show has worked for months to create. That may be why you love live theater but I wonder if that is why audiences numbers for live theater are always slipping away. At least now the cast knows what happened to the second act.
Good to share your opinions on the reading though, shouldn't stop you from evaluating the play in it's current state. That's the thing I love about people who love theater. Seeing it isn't the point.

james said...

nope. not kidding.

that's the gamble of doing a live show in front of a live audience. that audience doesn't have the months behind them...and they could respond in any way. it's the variable we all invite in by being live theatre artists. in my opinion.

(but i should have said "i think that's ONE OF the great things about theatre", it's not the only great thing.)

and touche (insert accent there), i'll take my comments elsewhere until i have viewed the full production (which, based on the reading, i'm quite looking forward to). best to you all.

sam k said...

one might hope that the audience engage in discussion during the intermission. but to pass judgement on the rest of the crowd ("the audience couldn't handle the irony") is rude and presumptuous, and does not in any way represent the power of the audience in live theatre.

i was at the same performance, though i did not witness the events related by david. what i did witness, however, was a play written by a woman of mixed race, which used humor as a storytelling tool. the young lady to whom david refers underestimated her fellow theatre-goers: we did get it, black, white, latino, jewish, gentile, gay and straight. we got it.

Anonymous said...

I found the show smart in many ways, and often flawed in the ways mentioned here. One of my biggest concerns was the lack of another African American face or voice onstage besides the one made of felt (and Alapai's, of course.)

How would the play have changed if one of the dancers or the puppeteer had been black? As it is, Serena Matthews is functioning in an echo chamber of sorts. If that's the point, I wondered to what end?

And speaking of ends, I think there could have been a bit of ambivalence at the end of the show--the resolution feels a bit simplistic to me.

Would that there were more shows that raised these questions! Viva Many Hats.

Anonymous said...

How do you know that someone else in the cast was not black??? What assumptions are you making now?

Anonymous said...

For me, the show is a story about becoming comfortable within one's own skin. It's about dealing with alienation, both self-imposed and externally-imposed. As an outsider looking in on herself, the central character confronts her own stereotypes of and curiosities about black culture and in so doing...

Maybe you thought "...asks audience members to confront their own stereotypes and curiosities about black culture" ? But I don't think so.

The stereotypes shown to the audience were those of an 18 year old college freshman who'd always thought of herself as non-black. Accordingly, the types presented were very simple, very juvenile. They're types that are not new in American pop-culture: the thug, the ball player, the rapper... etc. She asks questions like: do I have to talk the way I hear black people talking around me to fit in? Do I have to walk like they do? Dress like they do? Eat and pray and love like they do? Or, as she comes to in her final monologue, is it more a matter of "
[she doesn’t] have it like other people have it and other people don't have it like [her.]" She finds her peace there. Don’t many teenagers confront similar questions as they grow into their own person?

Alapai doesn't challenge or defend the morality of black culture in America; she doesn't attempt to shatter stereotypes; she doesn't even suggest that stereotyping is 'bad.' She just shows us what she experienced as a young adult learning something huge about herself. Of course, the play begs the question “what does it mean to be black in america?” But it also begs the question: “what is it to just be yourself?” I think it most successfully explores this question. In fact, I think Alapai muddles the stronger story with weaker anecdotes charged with hot-button race questions: the white girl pretending to be Stevie Wonder, the college theatre department that does For Colored Girls… and Fences when it can find enough black actors.

There is a large contingency of theatre people (on both sides of the proscenium) who believe that theatre, by its very nature, is a political act (especially when the story is about war, race, homosexuality, any oppressed group, etc.), but to many others (historically and currently) it is an entertaining act, a storytelling act, a relaxing act. I think theatre people feel this cheapens the work (especially when the story is about war, race, homosexuality, any oppressed group, etc.), so they cast it off in lieu of large minded ideals that theatre has within it the power to rewire minds, just by telling a story that connects to the world outside the theatre.

I believe this discussion is steeped in this overreaching ideology.

I don’t say this to downplay or dismiss your post- or mid-show thoughts, discussions, and/or discomfort. They were and are, of course, valid. But I do think it’s import not to imbue a story with too much clout when reacting to it, both inside the theatre during intermission (for instance), and especially here, where conversations can get fiery. We cannot mistake our own sorting out of the play (a very interesting intellectual pursuit) for a political statement by its author. For theatre to alter the political landscape, it needs to touch a large number of people (directly or indirectly) in a large way. This categorization should be reservered for only the most profound plays. This play simply did not have that power. Sometimes its best to enjoy what you can of a story being told.

Anonymous said...

...and yet that a simple, personal, even entertaining, story has already sparked this much discussion and interest is remarkable -- how many other plays have you seen in the past year can say that?

... or does even mentioning the word "race" guarantee a certain level of dialogue regardless? and if so, how does that reflect on us today?

i agree that this is one character's story and we sould be careful not to read into it what isn't there, but I find it refreshing to see the "this is my story" perspective ...

Anonymous said...

ugh. this show was so bad. forget race, it was bad theatre. long, boring, self-indulgent, poorly acted, the dancing wasn't even together at times. it was at least 40 minutes too long. the fact that it has all of you talking about it only shows how terrible portland theatre is- that something of this poor quality should stand out at all.

Anonymous said...

"...and yet that a simple, personal, even entertaining, story has already sparked this much discussion and interest is remarkable -- how many other plays have you seen in the past year can say that?"

Well, there was The Tempest....

Anonymous said...

The show has its faults, but Anonymous 09:09:10 PM is full of it. I could have lived without much of the dancing. the show is probably too long. But, the acting is JUST fine, always in service of the story--at it's most pedestrian--and well-focused, at its best. I do see a lot of theater. Very much of it, not in Portland, but in big bad NYS, at the Humana Festival, OSF, London, elsewhere. The acting in MUTT stands up as craftsman-like in any of these places. Please, be not so lazy or simply unknowladge enough to spit out inane gasps of phlegm at your betters.

I despair more at thoughtless typing that passes as writing than I do at mediocre theater, and I'm no fan of that. At the very least, it'd be nice if posters tried to exercise the basics of writing and constructing an argument that they learned--or did they?--in junior high school.

Bah. I rant (it felt good, though.) Sorry, Tim. Hopefully, the thread won't top 102 posts.

Easie said...

the dancing wasn't even together at times.

I'm thinking (assuming, hoping) that was intentional, given the context of the story (a group of young white small-college girls performing a thesis on Stevie Wonder)...

Anonymous said...

In other words, if the comedy is white people can't dance, then it's okay for the audience to laugh. Got it. Someone tell Damali we were just laughing at the wrong parts.

Anonymous said...,0,2914959.story?coll=bal-aetoday-headlines

Ben Waterhouse said...

The comedy definitely isn't that white people can't dance. They dance quite well, and Jessica Wallenfells dances superbly. But they're overworked college students trying to get a weird show about Stevie Wonder together, and they occasionally "screw up" in humorous ways. The coordination of the dancers has nothing to do with race. Lighten up! Or at least see the show.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's not that they "can't dance" but the choices they (the characters) make that's funny ...

ABCii said...

So now we're relying on Damali to guage our personal reactions as audience members? (whoever has connections to damali should ask her to weigh in here; it would be great to have her as part of the discussion, assuming the reference to her means she saw the show)

doing the math said...

Damali was the "young black woman sitting in my row" that David spoke about.

Anonymous said...

Tired of Damali-bashing...

Let's not go down this road again please. Or were none of you around for the "Rashomon" web discussion?

Here's a better idea: maybe we should start listening to Damali since she 1) has dedicated her life to race-related work and fighting racism, and 2) might have more experience and perspective than most of us.

Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

funny...when I read the much earlier post about the black woman in the audience, I thought...sounds like something damali might say.

She IS the self-appointed poster child for bi-racial, bi-sexual issues (or their annoying absence) in the Portland Cultural I've been curious how she would take Lava's extremly different point of view about the subject (especially given some of the two women's obvious things in common...) I guess now we know.

Still, the whole conversation kind of reminds me of last night's episode of The Office, where they find out the one black guy in the office also happens to be a convict (for insider trading) and everyone falls all over themselves to prove that they are not uncomfortable about that knowledge because he's black but because he's a criminal...

Look. We're racist. We all are. Like Peggy Shaw said, she's a racist sexist homophobe who happens to be a lesbian drag king performance artist with a half-black grandson.

So before I say anything else I'll say this. I'm a racist. I place a high moral value on not saying or acting inappropriately based on the racist ideas in my head (whether created by me or planted there by the larger culture/my family/my friends/etc). But that doesn't make me less racist. Just slightly more aware of the role racism plays in my life.

In that way, damali's right- I laugh at Mutt because it hits my racist buttons (and my liberal buttons, and my art fag buttons and my...)but so? The points Damali makes in her art and the points Lava makes in Mutt force me to react and therefore think about the little assumptions that run through my head about race and sexuality. That's what I like about it. I like being challenged with my own assumptions, even when the challenge is coming from a point of view that has its own racist, sexist, homophobic baggage attached to it.

My being white doesn't disqualify me from accurately seeing or understanding Mutt. It uniquely qualifies me to understand the things that I need to get out of the play. In a way that is completely different for what might resonate for a black woman or an asian man or a midget hermaphrodite about the play.

Its the dialogue that makes it interesting. And I keep thinking that it almost wouldn't matter what Lava chose to say about the subject, someone would have found something "stereotypical" or "dangerous" or "racist" or "inappropriate" in it- ESPECIALLY if she's telling the truth from her own point of view.

And just imagine if it had been written by a white girl. But wait, it was written by a white girl.Who's also black. And other things. Who seems to have chosen not to give up her white cultural ancestry any more than she's chosen to give up on her black cultural ancestry.

Is it her whiteness that makes me uncomfortable? Or her blackness? Or my whiteness. Probably my whiteness. If I'm being totally honest with myself.

This stuff makes us uncomfortable because we want so desperately to find 'correct' things to say about it. when we should be trying to find 'true' things to say about it. if white people in the audience laughed at stuff, they thought it was funny. Whether they found it funny for appropriately non-racist reasons really misses the point, doesn't it?

It would be kind of ridiculous of me to self censor and say, "Gee, I shouldn't go see that movie or laugh at that joke because I'm not of the right cultural/racial/economic background to respectfully appreciate it."

Wouldn't it? Or is that a racist thing to say? (Probably is. Like I said, I'm a racist.)

Anonymous said...

Wait a second...

Does anyone even know if it was Damali in the audience or is she just either 1) the only black person we all know or 2) the scapegoat for all discussions about race?

Talk about assumptions...

And then you bashed her right after someone asked not to do that.

This conversation, this community...what is wrong? This conversation is so self-congratulating, and so disrespectful of someone who isn't even involved in this chat. I don't even know what else to say. Are you seeing what you are doing? This is sad.

Anonymous said...

Ok, since she has become such a reference point in this discussion, whether or not she was the one in the audience, can someone fill in who Damali is for those of us who don't know? Thanks.

Follow Spot said...

On the contrary ... let's concern ourselves less with damali and return our focus to the play.

Any other reactions from those who've seen "Mutt"?

sam k said...

i'm sorry followspot, but i'm afraid i have to add one more post on this tangential topic.

anonymous: i was there, and yes, it was damali ayo that made those comments. i didn't hear her myself, but someone else in my group, who knows her, did.

this is the second time that i've been passively referred to as racist by damali, and i'm getting pretty sick of it. last time, my offense was using the term "black comedy." i don't agree with her perspective that this is a racist term, but everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.

but this time, my offense was going to see mutt while being white (or, if you want to get specific, italian-american jew... which is *two* minorities, thank you very much.) damali's intermission commentary proves one of the very theses of the play!: that racism comes from all quarters and in all forms, and often bursts spontaneously from the ashes of good intentions.

the bottom line is that i think it's inappropriate to preach from a high moral ground about the quality or appropriateness of a piece of theatre whilst in the lobby during intermission. it's rude to the members of the production, and it's inherently sneaky because it's not really much of a forum for open dialogue. for good measure, i also believe that it's insulting to imply that the average caucasian theatre-goer won't understand the deeper meanings of the play simply on account of their white-ness. especially this play, which is necessarily written from the point of view of both white and black.

and the grand finale, the winner-takes-all punchline to this whole absurd line of reasoning, is that damali herself runs a website called which is a rather sharply tongue-in-cheek (but also quite sharp... or, wait. am i allow to compliment the site? i'm caucasion...) critique of black/white race relations.

any chance white people might not understand that? isn't it dangerous to put that on the internet for stupid white people all around the world to see? someone might take it seriously! that could make other people uncomfortable!

it's absurd. get off your horse and just watch the god damned play. alapai, wallenfels, and the rest of the cast are working hard up there to make their point. let them at least try, and let the rest of us decide for ourselves whether or not we understand it. chances are we do, and that it's actually elevating our thoughts on race relations.

Jesse said...

Yes, it was Damali. For those who do not know (like me, until recently) she is a race-relations/social commentary author in Portland. Her most recent book is titled "How to Rent a Negro," I believe. I had the privilege (read: misfortune) to sit in front of her.

As the boyfriend of one of the dancers whose ability was not-so-politely questioned further up this page (thank you), I will admit that I have a vested interest in this show. However, my personal investment does not extend beyond the success or failure of one dancer.

That said, as a white, 21 year-old audience member who's seen the show in its final form twice, I think the show is quite good. I think it is funny, poignant, and touches just enough on subjects that are both funny (and fun to laugh at) and unsettling/awkward.

We can all laugh at a Whoopi puppet telling Alapai's character to "Find a boy, that's what I's what you need to do!" in order to appear straight, since, as a black girl, being gay would just be double jeopardy. Conversely, we're all uncomfortable when Whoopi explains what exactly the "brown bag" test is.

I have been, and always will be, a firm believer that laughter should not be quieted if it is meant in good fun. I was there, sitting in front of Damali, laughing my ass off at the absurdity and tongue-in-cheek humor of the first act. I, along with the 15 year-old sister and 50-something mother of my girlfriend (both white), understood the humor and irony of Alapai's script. She intended to over-emphasize and pound the stereotypes home in a way that the audience could begin to see the absurdity in this (our) version of society. I believe it is absurd to stymie laughter at a joke simply because your skin happens to not be one of the colors that is approved to laugh at it. Ironically, this is one of the issues that Alapai attempts to mock in her show.

Then, at intermission, I was 'treated' to Damali's tirade. While she presented her position in a very calm manner, and in a way that she listened to criticism from those around her, she failed to ever let a complete sentence be uttered against her opinions. A few choice phrases that I remember were, "...this is a dangerous play... I don't feel she presents her arguments in a way for people to 'get' them...(when argued about the previous statement) I know Portland audiences, and they are not smart enough to get this...I feel threatened and uncomfortable, as one of the few people of color here, that I'm surrounded by white people laughing at this..."

I could go on, but I'd at least like to point out that at least a third if not fully half the audience that evening was black...and I say black since I'm a firm believer that African-American is quite often a misnomer.

Beyond this, I took some offense to Damali's remarks, since, in the course of her diatribe, it became clear that she in fact believed that WHITE audiences would not understand the play, while my 15 year-old companion and I had a quite informed in-depth conversation on the subject just seconds later. This besides the fact that Damali herself is biracial and necessarily half white.

I spent the whole second act afraid to enjoy myself because I could hear Damali's snorts and gasps every time something remotely questionable occured. This is where I draw the line. Those actors have worked their asses off for months to put this show on, and for you to dismiss it in such a fashion that you ruin the experience for those around you is an insult to the professionals working in front of you.

I kept my mouth more or less shut, however, because I tend to get emotionally worked up in these kinds of situations, and I did not wish to cause a scene...I only spoke once or twice, attempting to shed light on what I believed Alapai was attempting to accomplish, mostly. For what it's worth, though, when the lights came up at the end Damali's only words to me were to hand me her card and say, "Have your friend call me if she wants to talk."

I believe that Alapai has written a terrific show. Yes, I agree with some critics that there are places/transitions that could use some tightening, and perhaps presenting solutions to some of the issues she brings forth, but I believe it's a great show nonetheless. Kristan's (whose last name escapes me) direction is superb, and the acting and dancing all-around is all spot-on. Wallenfels's coreography is engaging, funny, and fun to watch (coming from one who's not a fan of watching dance).

Part of Alapai's mission here (having spoken to her about it) was to inspire multiple reactions--to get people talking and to push their buttons, along with their limits. She expects offense and expects laughter. This show could only be a failure if no one laughed and no one talked about it. Here's hoping that it inspires some meaningful conversations around PDX.

Also, to attempt to answer "pisco poet"'s questions: strictly my opinion (based on conversations), but I believe Alapai specifically designed the show to be based on her real-life expereiences as much as possible. She did not have any black friends. To really emphasize how lost and/or alienated she was, she chose to make herself the only black cast member. This emphasizes her groping for identity and her inability to cope at the same time. By the same token, her decision to end the play happily, with an "I gotta be me" kind of feel, is also indicative of how it turned out for her in the end. The show's ending is upbeat because Alapai herself is. There's hope outside the boxes, as it were.

As a young, white, male member of the audience, though, what I wish I could do is ask some of the black members of the audience what their reaction was. Unfortunately, it seems that that is a line that I cannot cross (also something mentioned by Alapai).

All-around, this is a terrific show, and anyone who skips it is missing out; also (it seems to me), anyone who comes and leaves offended is missing the point. Have a DIALOGUE with an audience member different from yourself. You might learn something.

Anonymous said...


I also am a person of color and saw the play with a black and biracial friend in the hopes that this would be a good experience. We were all disappointed. In reading the commentary here, the only conclusion that seems readily available is that this show is enjoyed by white people and not by people of color. That in itself is deeply disturbing.

As far as Damali is concerned, you folks should stop dismissing her and listen. She has every right to say what she feels as an audence member, whenever she deems it appropriate. She was obviously conducting an intermission intervention- starting the dialogue everyone is accusing her of quashing. In fact, it is her actions that started this dialogue- here on this page, without even being presnt. Clearly she is smarter than you give her credit for, since she has truly gotten you all to look deeper into the world around you and to talk to others about what you see.

Seems to me, that you should be thanking her.

From my perspective, as a person of color, damali's observations are correct. The show mishandled a great deal about race. That is even more clear in this conversation where white people are praising themselves, and this production and outright dismissing the honest reaction of a person of color in the audience.

Oh and for the record, neither she nor Lava are half-white. Lava isn't white at all, she's Black and Hawaiian. Everyone here is making a lot of incorrect assumptions and basing their own "high horses" on things that are simply not true.

I'm sorry to post anonymously, but it seems that you have no qualms about attacking someone personally, so I'm not going to leave myself open to that.

I hope you start to listen to the people of color around you- in this case, to damali, instead of only validating to your white-only dialoge.

(Yes, yes I can almost hear your reaction. I'm sure you will now go find a person of color who agrees with you. If you really want dialogue, you'll stop forcing your "correct" opinions and start to listen- even to those who disagree with you.)

Anonymous said...

Which is exactly why I said I wish people would engage in a DIALOGUE with other people in the audience. What I experienced was certainly not such. I would very much like to have a rational, thought out discussion about the issues, but I don't want to hear the implication that I am not smart enough to understand what I'm seeing before the second act of a show I paid my money ot see as well.

If Damali, or anyone who felt this way, had brought it up in a more open manner, I would have been fine. But I felt rather insulted that she chose to insult my intelligence rather than the play, for the most part.

pointing out the obvious said...

So who is really judging the audience here? What it sounds like is that your (everyone who has written here) reactions are deemed good and appropriate, while this other audience member's reactions are deemed inappropriate by you. As theatre folk, shouldn't we let the audience have whatever reaction we inspire in them, or do we only approve of the audience members who like what we do?

pointing out the obvious said...

Sorry, I meant to add...isn't it possible (if not already clear) that this person could have found your laughter as in appropriate as you found her intermission rant? Why do you assume that laughter is a good thing? Maybe for some people in the audicence (obviously) that laughter was really wrong. Even if you decided that the play meant to make you laugh, maybe this woman thinks otherwise- and as James said, the audience is part of this experience for us, right?

Come on people, why are you in theatre, if not to engage the audience? As for "putting down all the cast's hard work" we all know that hard work does not always make a show good. Just because people work hard on something does not mean they should get a gold star or be free from criticism. That's what we did in kindergarten theatre. This is (supposed to be) the real thing. If we are serious about this work than we better get more sophisticated about how we take honest reactions-good or bad.

Whoops, I said way more than I thought I was going to! :) Passion, I suppose. That's why I do theatre. I'd take a passionate reaction over some ego-massaging laughter any day.

jeff said...

"...obviously conducting an intermission intervention"

This is an accepted practice, so as to garner the label "obvious"? Man, I have been out of the loop all these years...


another white girl said...

This play seemed to me, at its heart, to be an honest telling of a difficult personal struggle with an impossible task: trying to reconcile your black and white heritage.

It was written and performed so honestly that it really touched me. But I'm a white girl. And I think there might be some truth that it is more pitched to white people than 'people of color', that somehow white people are going to identify more with it than people of color will, though that is of course a very broad generalization and I think Lava's point, in the end, was that separating things so severely down the white/black line shuts off a multitude of experiences that fall in, around and in between. Though in the end, that IS how everyone is experiencing it, in black and white, because that is still how it works in our society. As I'm writing all this I'm acutely aware of how WHITELY I see the world, and thus this play. As a white person I have the luxury of pretending there is a space where race doesn't matter, that in the end there is a way to get beyond race. So I can see why Lava's assertion that it is possible to "fuck their little boxes" or whatever she said would piss off some black people.

I will say that in my experience as a white person, racism is not so overt that it can simply be called out and then it's done. The real racism (Kramer notwithstanding) sneaks up on you. I was raised by white liberals who went to great pains to educate me on respecting and honoring African-American culture -- NO RACISM HERE! - right? Sadly, no. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I realized how many biases lurked beneath the supposed tolerance.

Anyway, "Mutt" resonated with me, as a white girl, because I could identify with this feeling of confusion when faced with black culture. Since Lava's character was a mixed-race person who had grown up identifying as white, it makes sense that her struggle might resonate more with a white person than a person of color. I admire her attempts to put this across honestly, though I'm not surprised it's provoked a hailstorm of response. How could it not? In my experience people of all races are really not that open to being challenged about race. For different reasons, but in effect it is just very difficult to have an honest conversation about race between people of different races. Because of the pain and the confusion and the misunderstanding and the inability to really understand experience from the other point of view, and maybe an unwillingness to.

(Obviously it's different if you don't actually HAVE any interaction with people of other races, which is alarmingly easy to do in Portland... illustrated beautifully above, when based on someone saying "a young black woman" in an earlier post, most people immediately AND ACCURATELY identified that woman as damali ayo. I find this incredible.)

My point is that most people would rather stay in a safe zone and not interact with people of other races and not offend anyone and keep to their own. For someone to step outside of that safety zone and publicly share her experience of both races is, in my mind, quite brave.

The audience when I attended was deathly quiet. I found myself laughing a lot, in sympathy and sometimes uncomfortably - laughing at the ridiculousness of a very white girl staging a complicated dance tribute to Stevie Wonder, laughing when at the end the main character comes out singing a Madonna song, and ROCKS IT, even though she knows that she isn't "supposed" to like it. In the end I think that's what I took away from this: that life is too short to be talked out of loving what you love, even if to do so you are somehow 'breaking the rules' of race, black or white.

Okay, enough from the white girl...

fabill said...

So the general impression I get is less-than-perfect but more-then-provocative? I guess now I just have to get my insulated self up to IFCC to seewhat the fuss is all about...

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that some of the main issues, both in the play and in the discussion, revolve around privilege and its exercise. yes, there is also the question of "who is it for?" "is there an intended audience?" --i think this can also relate to the question of (cultural/economic/social) privilege.

i remember reading "slave ship" by baraka in college and having no handle whatsoever on the play. about all i could take from it was that there was voice of anger from the play that seemed to be directed unilaterally at all caucasians. i was confused that i could be lumped into baraka's tirade because i knew he had never met me personally, so how could i be included as part of the target? my professor's first words were: "You should consider the possibility that this play was not written for YOU" What? I am not capable of being its audience? I am not part of all humankind? It's possible for me not to be included?

aha. one of my first forays into consciousness about white male privilege in america-- which tacitly states that everything is not only for you but also is capable of being understood (controlled?) by you.

in my experience of privilege, it is largely invisible to the owner, especially the well-meaning ones. and although i identify as gay--and i do have some sense of being in a second, disempowered class--i don't have a handle on all forms of the exercise of privilege. it is elusive. i think this for a couple of reasons.

first, i don't personally experience much of the downside to privilege. for example, if i get a job over someone else, i assume it to be merit-based, not because of my skin color. this may or may not be true. since i don't fancy myself to be one who would make a judgment in the latter way, i don't ascribe it to others. but does that situation play out? hell yes, it does.

do the rich have a real idea of what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck? probably not. do men have a real sense of what it is like to be a woman walking alone down a street? have they calculated the probability that they will be cat-called, or propositioned, or followed on any given route? doubtful.

second, i think people tend to the assumption that their life is similar to most others.. cause that's the easier assumption. it takes less work. at least that's they way it is for me. i constantly make and un-make this assumption on a daily basis. the events that have helped me begin to emerge from this solipsism have been friends of different colors and genders telling me about their negative experiences and i begin to see the ways in which i play into a culture that creates these scenarios. it's shocking to find yourself contributing unwittingly to the misery of others. my world is broadened and i cannot continue to act in a way which only reflects my experience. if i do, i cannot grow.

paradoxically, we cannot be but who we are. we may not have asked for the plate we are give, but we have it all the same. which is why i believe we must be truthful and honest in our re-Presentations of ourselves and identities and also be open to widening our sense of these things, our contexts. we must not only fully represent all of our grotesque complex glory, but also be humble enough, and willing enough, to learn. to change.

to bring it more directly back to this discussion: Whom is this play intended for? Who is actually seeing it? Is it supposed to be universally understandable and relevant in the same way to all audience members? Is "mutt" (sub?)conscious agit-prop of a particular viewpoint or is "mutt" is to be regarded as alapai's statement of 'This Is What Happened To Me in My Situation as I See It'?

I think we can look at it both as a personal journey of one person and also as a barometer for the culture we live within. we can honor alapai's recreation of her struggle during an earlier period of her life as such--as representational of a real thing that happened to a real person.

AND we can also examine how these issues play out in life outside the theatre. Is humor counter-revolutionary?

we can discuss how the production of the play itself quotes or does not quote privilege--and to do so, we must be prepared to hear from many vantage points.

it seems to me that we all have things about ourselves that we can see and things that we cannot see. things about our culture that we can see and that we cannot see. it takes a combination of viewpoints from within and from without to get a clearer view.

i find the interesting question to be not "who is right here?" or "who has the authority to say what?" but rather "what set of circumstances would have to exist for ALL of these seemingly conflicting ideas to be true?" because they are all happening. It's possible that the audience both does--and does not--'get it' at the same time. The context is rich and complex and paradoxical.

ironically, after typing so much here, i would say that for me the most important step in these discussions is Listening--and not just for what i want to hear.

so keep bringing it.

sam k said...

"pointing out the obvious" said:

Sorry, I meant to add...isn't it possible (if not already clear) that this person could have found your laughter as in appropriate as you found her intermission rant?

you know, that's a really good point which i had not considered. so... thank you for that. i wish i had more to say about it right now, but instead i'm just going to think about what you said.

one of the "anonymous"es said:

As far as Damali is concerned, you folks should stop dismissing her and listen. She has every right to say what she feels as an audence member, whenever she deems it appropriate.

first of all, i'm disagreeing with her, and getting annoyed with her, but i am not dismissing her. if i wanted to dismiss her, which i do not, i would have said something like "she doesn't know what she's talking about and she should shut up."

which is not what i said. i said i found the manner in which she chose to offer her remarks to be insensitive, and her seeming assumption about the stupidity of portland audiences, particularly white folks, to be upsetting.

of course she has the right to say anything she wants, however and whenever she wants. i'm just disagreeing.

anonymous continued:

She was obviously conducting an intermission intervention

i've never heard this term before. would you explain, please?

Clearly she is smarter than you give her credit for

no. she's a very intelligent person, and i know that, and never doubted or questioned it.

Oh and for the record, neither she nor Lava are half-white. Lava isn't white at all, she's Black and Hawaiian. Everyone here is making a lot of incorrect assumptions and basing their own "high horses" on things that are simply not true.

i have made no assumptions in this regard. my reference to the play being from both a white and black perspective is based upon the play itself, in which the lead character refers to herself as caucasian. since that is what she actually *says*, i don't think there should be any problem here.

I'm sorry to post anonymously, but it seems that you have no qualms about attacking someone personally, so I'm not going to leave myself open to that.

and that's your prerogative, of course. but on the other hand, i am not attacking damali, simply taking issue with her *actions* while attempting to maintain responsibility for my own. ok, so the line about her high horse was a little aggressive. i admit that. but if i were trying to attack damali, i would be talking trash about her instead of about what she said. i will make no bones about the fact that i don't agree with her, don't like the way that she has spoken to me and others in the past, and don't like the fact that she snubbed what i believe to be every audience member's responsibility to watch the *whole* play before finalizing an opinion.

but those are my opinions, and i won't start randomly turning them into attacks on her intelligence, education, or status as an artist, all of which are beyond question.

i do have qualms about making personal attacks, and wouldn't dream of doing so to a perfect stranger. so, whoever you are, anonymous, rest assured that i have no intention of making any kind of attack towards you, whatever that means, whether or not i agree with what you're saying. at the same time, i reserve my right to disagree with you, and to say so.

Anonymous said...

While I don't like contributing to the discussion that draws attention away from the production, I couldn't help but notice this:

"She has every right to say what she feels as an audence member, whenever she deems it appropriate. She was obviously conducting an intermission intervention- starting the dialogue everyone is accusing her of quashing."

You are absolutely right. As an audience member, she does have a right to express her feelings whenever she deems it appropriate. Having said that, however, it is a serious breach of professional courtesy to do so at the venue during an intermission. Make no mistake, audience members can and will do and say whatever they please, but one would hope that another artist would--at the very least--have enough respect for the art itself to not undermine the work of the production or the experience of the audience in that fashion. It's wholly unacceptable, and quite frankly soils any point she may attempt to make. In all my years as a working artist in theatre, I cannot imagine any scenario where an "intermission intervention" has ever been considered appropriate and I shudder to think that anyone in this community ever could. There are an infinite number of ways to express your feelings about any given show (this blog included) that would not make you look like an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Without discounting an individual's opinion, an "audience intervention" does seem a bit presumptious.

Anonymous said...

Based on the comments above, the play sounds sloppy. Even those defending it seem to be damning it with their praise (the general tone being "it has problems, but give it a break" rather than "no, it's great!").

Race and racism are loaded topics that deserve a solid, well-thought-out, tight treatment.

By the way, I would like to suggest that art/theater/music should never be defended by pointing out how hard the artists worked. Who cares? Perhaps that justifies elementary school pageants, but little else.

Anonymous said...

I'm one who said that the show is great but has its faults. It's very worth seeing. Everything has faults, for God's sake. Mentioning them is not "Faint praise," but rather movement toward specificity and understanding.

And racism is such a big topic that it deserves all the attention it can get, "sloppy" or "tight." If we wait for the 'perfect' treatment, we'll never treat it at all.

Go see the show.

Ben Waterhouse said...

I don't think I've ever seen a "tight" treatment of race. That's like asking for a "tight" treatment of the human condition. Alapai's script is definitely well-thought-out, but, like any premiere, it still needs a little work.

And I'd like to see this as a helpful forum for discussing new work. I couldn't care less whether one person thought the show was "appropriate," or whether Portland audiences are smart enough to get it. That's really not an artistically useful line of discussion. I'd like to see some concrete discussion of the fine and rough spots of the show.

For instance: Is it really necessary to perform all of "The Wonder of it All?" How sinister do you think the Whoopi puppet is meant to be? I found it quite menacing.

The final scene of recollection between mother and child seemed odd to me, but I'm not sure why. What could make it work better?

C'mon, people. I'm the critic. Shouldn't I be the one making vicious generalizations and personal attacks?

Anonymous said...

And to build on Ben's thoughtful questions ... is the resolution satisfactory? Or, rather, how could it have been more effective?

And was the plot's turning point enough of a spur to cause the character's coming to terms with being a mutt?

Anonymous said...

I thought that Whoopi was supposed to be sinister as hell--at least it was to me. It kept pushing a puerile, false dialectic about how to be black on the poor kid, who's imagination was so trapped by the t.v. land-imagery and kinda-dumb pronouncements by her white counselors (one of whom is well-meaning, the other of whom is real scary herself.) As soon as Serena fell for the idea established by Whoopi that there was a 'way' to be black, Whoopi then ridiculed her for falling into it, i.e., the whole 'gangsta' thing. To me, this was a... "tight..." way of dramatizing the mixed-messages that kids get hammered with all the time.

Anonymous said...

On the Nature of Laughter

I’ve been watching the “Mutt” discussion unfold over the last few days and have a quick observation. Audiences laugh for a good many reasons. The most obvious one is that they find something funny or witty, but they also laugh at stabs of recognition, when material makes them uncomfortable or nervous, or when a point particularly resonates and the resulting feelings are difficult. Tragedy is when you get your hand mangled in a steam press; comedy is when I step on a rake and the handle whacks me between the eyes. (Yeah, go ahead and laugh, you bastards.)

In short, sometimes we laugh when the only other option is to cry, particularly when the subject is one so freighted with heartache, history, and conflicted inner feelings as racism and racial identity.

Why are the “Mutt” audiences laughing? Probably the only way to answer that question is to go see the show.

Anonymous said...

I think that's an excellent point about why people laugh. I used a similar quote in a paper once:

"tragedy is when i cut my finger; comedy is when you fall down an open manhole and die." -mel brooks

i think some of the best "comedy" is that which can make you laugh and at the same time feel dirty for laughing, or in other words, make you question what it is about this obvious atrocity that is funny. to me, that's the power and nature behind true satire, something shows like South Park have down to a science. it's often written off as pure shock-effect comedy, but it's really, at least in my opinion, so much more. The problem is, while a more direct, specific, or politically correct approach to education on issues such as race may be more fair and considerate and well-rounded/thought-out than a race-comdey, which is almost certain to offend someone, well, didactic lectures just tend to be a little less entertaining. The nature of this issue is necessarily going to elicit conversation, but if its entertaining there's a greater chance more people will go see it! Hence, more people engaging in converstation and more people educated.

another white girl said...

Plus, didactic lectures won't really get people to change their thinking much, or even take in what you have to say. Comedy and satire can sneak in subversive or challenging ideas that you don't even notice at first because you're laughing so hard.

That's what makes comedy such a great tool. It's not clean. One person might be laughing because they agree with the racist sentiments, one person might be laughing because the racist sentiments are so ludicrous. It stirs the pot and gets people thinking outside of their "boxes" which a didactic lecture never will.

And to return to the discussion of "Mutt": Ben raises some great questions. Here are mine: why was the Whoopi puppet manipulated by a Latina woman? I'm assuming this was a conscious choice... but what was it saying exactly?

In general, the Whoopi puppet was slightly intimidating, but she also had some good advice. I guess I wasn't clear if the Whoopi puppet was supposed to be a figment of Serena's imagination, and thus a slightly intimidating projecting of her own ideas of "what it means to be black", or a projection of what the media is telling her she has to do to be black... or something else entirely. The scenes with the Whoopi puppet were some of my favorites, but somewhere in there I got a bit confused. I got that Serena was rejecting a black identity based on stereotypes and caricatures of being black... but was she also rejecting the black community? Weren't there any other ways to figure out how to "be black"? Was she rejecting being black entirely? By refusing to "check the boxes" was she, by default, settling back into a basically white identity?

And much as I loved the love interest's misguided but sweetnatured staging of Stevie Wonder's music, along with the entire dance chorus, I also would have rather seen less of the budding relationship and more about Serena's journey through the minefield of race relations. Mixing in a love story muddled the power of Serena's story of her own identity. But maybe this was the point.

On the other hand, much of the staging was clever and elegant - a picture of Madonna sliding in once in a while to counteract the Whoopi puppet, a photo of Mick Jagger standing in for her nebulous idea of who her father is, and the dance chorus swooping in at the end to back up Serena's powerhouse rendition of "Like A Prayer".

It's definitely worth seeing, and worth talking about. And once again I have rambled on far too long...

Follow Spot said...

For those who haven't yet seen "Mutt" (or want to see it again) -- it's been extended two more weekends: December 14-16 and December 28-30.

same ole, same ole said...

"MUTT" is demeaning of black people, presenting a simplistic, mocking (more minstrel than satirical) idea of what it means to be black. If this weren't enough it even goes further to insult black holidays etc. Finally the main character, in the end rejects blackness without ever really finding out what it really is, chosing to ride off into the sunset with the white woman.

It was a humiliating play, and the black woman I saw it with left in tears.

The fact that it is a work that white people praise and that the people who critique it are basically ignored, just shows that very little has changed in entertainment in the last 100 years.

None of us should be surprised, but we all should know better by now.

Anonymous said...

"The fact that it is a work that white people praise and that the people who critique it are basically ignored, just shows that very little has changed in entertainment in the last 100 years."

If the people who were critical of the show were ignored, would there be damned near 50 comments here?

Anonymous said...

Pardon me for being naive, but doesn't Serena running off into the sunset with the white girl mean, more than Serena rejecting her blackness, that, in the end, race is transcended by love?

Anonymous said...

race isn't transcended

Anonymous said...

I see what you're saying in correcting my word choice: one does not transcend one's race; one transcends the inequalities resulting from one's race.

What I should have said, more directly, is that Serena's decision implies love is more important than the color of one's skin.

Anonymous said...

As it should be.

In a society where too much emphasis is placed on the color of someone's skin, rather then the value of the person himself, it's refreshing to see someone step outside of the box and do what feels right.

Anonymous said...

" the end rejects blackness without ever really finding out what it really is, chosing to ride off into the sunset with the white woman."

Please explain how ending up with love is her rejecting blackness, and what do you see as the "correct" ending?

Anonymous said...

I responding to an earlier comment that implied that, in riding off into the sunset, etc., Serena was rejecting blackness. And I would never be presumptuous to suggest a "correct" ending. I believe that's the playwright's job.

Anonymous said...

Is it ignoring someone to disagree with them?

How do we know that the person who said they thought the show was stupid was any color in particular- there was no picture or dna test associated with that post was there?

And as to damali bashing, I'm not convinced there's a lot of damali bashing going on here.

she takes extremely honest, controversial opinions for a very specific reason,in her art and in her life, and its not bashing her to honestly and openly react to them.

I for one am thrilled to see the work of Lava, Kristan,and Jessica spark so much conversation, even if controversial, and the fact that damali's comments sparked even more conversation is even better, whether we feel what she said was appropriate (or at the appropriate time) or not.

More often than not, a new play gets produced in Portland and then dissapears into the dust after the playwright's friends and family are comped in to see it.

That this play has not done that, has extended, and has created this difficult and valuable conversation in our community is more than just fortuitous- its a freaking miracle. Jess, Lava, Kristan- I can't wait to see it, and I hope that it has a long life after this production where it continues to spark loud and honest commentary from smart talented culturally opinionated audience members all over the country.

Could it be improved? I'm hearing a lot of people say yes, and I'm guessing that Lava is already working on its next revision.

Should it be supported? Hell yes, because getting our Portland artistic voices heard is what we should all be in the business of doing here.

Doesn't mean we have to all agree with what any individual voice says. Lets just get them heard, people. And then get them heard nationally, and then internationally.

Let's get this show on the road, people. And lets petition damali to sit in the audience every night and spark the kind of dialogue we've seen here. have her write another manifesto- why white people shouldn't see Mutt, and put it in the playbill. But more importantly, give her an exhibit of her absolutely fascinating collage pieces on race and identity to tour concurrently with the show (in its next revision) so the conversation can be more than a series of web rants, it can be what both Lava and damali clearly in their own way designed it to be- a frank, occasionally uncomfortable but valuable conversation about race and identity all mediated through the beauty of fascinating (if new, and not perfect) art.

I'm too technology stupid to figure out how to post as anything other than
anonymous so I'll sign my name here-

Anonymous said...

Same Ole said that Lava's character "rejects blackness without ever knowing what it really is" (I'm paraphrasing). What does that mean? How can one know what blackness is? I'm guessing that Ole is alluding to ideas and feelings in addition to the color of one's skin? Is Ole saying that Lava's character rejects ownership of her race before accepting ownership? How does one accept ownership of their race or races? To make a statement like this implies that there is a correct and incorrect way to engage with one's race or that ownership of one's race has some outside guidelines. Who is in possession of these guidelines and who created them? Assertions of correct and incorrect ways to deal with thoughts and feelings of any kind always make me nervous.

hr said...

if a black person expresses discomfort regarding the laughter of the primarily white audience during this play, why not consider her message? the focus here has been on the delivery of her message, rather than the message itself.

i'm not saying she has instant authority because she's black, but damali ayo IS an author and speaker on race and social issues and perhaps has an opinion worth considering.

hooray for her for voicing her discomfort! i've been in an uncomfortable situation where i was a minority and i walked on eggshells not to be noticed.

another note... comments like this one made above:

"The acting in MUTT stands up as craftsman-like in any of these places. Please, be not so lazy or simply unknowladge enough to spit out inane gasps of phlegm at your betters."

are why i won't express my honest and thoughtful critique of any portland show. you get crucified if you don't like something. you get called "lazy, inane, unknowlage" (whatever that last word is) if you say something that isn't all gushy and flattering about a show. talk about walking on eggshells.

peanutduck said...

Hey people,

I may have missed this due to bad eyes and the small print...

Has anyone mentioned the moment at the end where Serena tells Whoopi - "You're racist." and Whoopi responds "No, you're racist."?

And yes, I agree with both of those characters.

I think that is an important moment to the play and one of many. Such as the moment when Serena identifying Jessica is a Jew b/c of her nose...turning the act of identifying Serena as black on its head.

I think the play is a mess but it raises so many thought provoking questions and for that reason is exciting despite its messiness.

Can we come at Stevie Wonder in our pure humanity or do we have to be of a certain ethnicity?

Can a white anthropologist go into India, South America, etc etc and give a valid report of what is happening there? of its people?

I also come at this play as a half cubana who looks white, was raised without a culture, and am constantly questioned about my last name. Am called mrs. I want to explore/know my culture. But what does that mean when I was raised without it? How do I go about that? And why does it matter? Is it possible?

In a way, while I do think one could ask "what was Serena's motivation," some cultural self was what she was trying to find. A road map isn't provided for that kind of search.

(and yes, why would Serena want/need something she never knew was lacking. I see that problem - motivation)

I know my thoughts are a muddle. But thought they were worth throwing out.

theresa hernandez

Anonymous said...

I saw this play last Thursday with my Theatre Appreciation class (through PCC) and wrote a paper about the technical aspects of the play itself (sound, costuming, and acting).

You might or might not be suprised to note there wasn't much discussion of the technical aspects of the play in my class this evening. Yeah - most of it was about race. And the only thing that race ever brings to my mind is a seeming snow-ball of ambivalence, and an idea that I will never truly know or understand my own race, let alone that of another.

And I've talked and thought and acted and ate and slept about race. I've had intense workshop discussions on race and led workshop discussions on race with more than just WHITE and BLACK people in the room.

Sometimes we like to think those are the only two races that have anything to bring to the table. I think in America, these are definitely the two races that have the most troubled water to bridge over.

But believe it or not, Mutt can and did and will speak to people of all different races, about racism. I don't think just because those are the only races represented by this play, that only black or white people will "get" Mutt. Or that one race has more of a claim to a play than another. I think that idea is righteously absurd.

A play is open to all audiences who will pay money to come and see it. It is not designed for a particular is simply designed for an audience.

Trying to lay racial claim to this play is about as insane as trying to lay racial claim to Alapai herself. Which is the point she's trying to make...I'm thinking.

And I honestly didn't feel at the end of the play Lava had accepted or rejected or denied or affirmed either her blackness or her whiteness. I felt she was just living as she was, neither black nor white and BOTH. The play wasn't about her being black. And it also wasn't about her being white. It was about her being both simultanesouly...and not being both. And how we try to look at people and stereotype them and compartmentalize their interests and abilities and experiences because of the color of their skin. We try to make them check a box next to their race so we can write them off...

And to hell with those boxes anyway! I've been filling out job applications for the past month and the more of those boxes I see...the angrier I become. Why do they need to know if I'm black or white or asian or Native American (and what TRIBE I'm from) before they hire me?

Maybe if we didn't have to check those boxes everytime we tried to do anything with our lives, we wouldn't place so much value on what they represent.

Who decided that you had to declare your race everytime you wanted to take out a car loan or register on a website?

I think those are the boxes Lava's railing against - not the black and white boxes neccesarily...but the boxes in general.

- Much Love, Mindy C

PS - Here is a snippet from the actual paper I wrote before class discussion and before learning about this blog (which my instructor actually encouraged us to locate and post on): "Overall, despite the technical difficulties of acting and some lighting cues which didn’t seem to have been executed properly – I thought the production was thought provoking and sometimes startling in it’s attempt to inspire the audience to look at new perspectives of race. I take away some new information about the experience of bi-racial and black women that I had not previously known, but I don’t think this play entirely encompassed the concepts and conflicts of race (nor did it intend to), and in the end it sort of left me feeling ambivalent about my perception of race. So often when the issue is race, there is an attempt to summarize and give broad generalizations, but I liked the fact that no easy solutions or answers were given. Just, maybe, some new understandings. I think the way society views race necessitates more than one dialogue or way to understand how it effects people. It’s probably one of the most sensitive issues you can discuss with people, simply because it’s so often NOT discussed. Not in an open way – it’s capitalized upon by the media and appropriated by corporations to sell products. It used by politicians and news agencies to marginalize and stereotype. But rarely ever is it discussed openly between people in constructive ways that lead to personal change. But I definitely felt moved and changed by things I saw in “Mutt.” And I’m definitely looking forward to class discussion tonight."

Anonymous said...

Saw it finally, and as far as I can tell, no one has brought up that the show can be seen as offensive for more people than just black. It takes shots at Mexicans and Jews quite a bit. I sat there feeling uncomfortable for people other than the black woman in front of me. It seemed like it was trying to be as funny as Sarah Silverman by shocking us into laughing.

Also, regarding the Whoopi puppet, I didn't understand why they chose to reveal the performer at the end, as part of a scene. My initial thought was to have the audience think "Interesting; all those times Whoopi said "nigger", it was said by a Latina woman. But it was written by a black woman. What shoud I think?".

As for the dancing, why so much? I get that the girls were working on a thesis, but did we have to see the whole the thing?

Finally, the song at the end. Is it curtain call, or is it another scene? I didn't know, and I don't think either the audience OR the cast did either. It's very tacked-on, and not set up at all by the previous scene; all we get is the ladies "walking off into the sunset" and asking Serena "Are you ready?" Ready for what: your new life as yourself? Ready to face the world with a white girlfriend? Ready to karaoke?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the reason why there are no positive African-American role models in the show is that the character Serena never had any, so what we are presented with then is the faulty perception she had. I mean, isn't that part of the point? I think in some ways that's a strength of the play, not a drawback. It's not putting down African Americans; it's slamming her ignorant white background. (Reminds me of "All in the Family" which also tread this line ever so finely, so much so that I'm sure many people agreed with Archie without getting the irony behind the stories.)

Now all that is coming from a "white" perspective, so I don't pretend to know what it's like from another angle -- but that's what I got out of the play's humor.

cold shower said...

"mutt" spends most of its time demeaning and mocking blackness. there is no positive image of a black person at any juncture in the show.

at the end love does not "transcend race" as a previous poster suggests. that is a deep deep misunderstanding of the constant role that race has in the lives of everyone in our society. and yes, that misunderstood concept of race is exactly what this play offers its audience not to evealuate, but to grab onto with enthusiasm. at the end of this play the basic message that the audience gets is "being black is too hard. forget it. i'd rather go hang out with this white woman."

and the white people laugh, not because they are uncomfortable, because they are incredibly comfortable- as this play presents nothing but standard notions of black stereotypes, which have been historically codified and accepted by white audiences. don't be fooled by white people that say "i felt made fun of." you have no idea what it is like to really feel made fun of until you are a person of color sitting in that audience. the jokes poked at white people are pin-pricks in comparisons to the daggers launched at black people.

there is no progress in this play, and very little (though there is some!) in this discussion.

i know you all think you are "getting it" but i'm sorry to tell you that in many ways you're not.

don't take this as condescending, and please don't attack my method, grammer, or punctuation. instead try to understand a perspective that you truly need to take in to your understanding of race. especially if you think "mutt" offers enlightenment, or anything fresh. instead why not read some of the best writers on race, patricia williams, bell hooks, michael eric dyson, mari matsuda, urvashi vaid, maurice berger (he has a great book called "white lies") tim wise (white like me), and yes, damali ayo. (no these are not playwrights, but the world is bigger than our stages, you know) there you will learn somethng that you can take into the world that will serve you and create a more positive dynamic among all the races with which we share this community.

Anonymous said...

It's not condesending, it's racist and absurd. You think can speak for any race, as a whole, as to why they laugh or what they think and at the same time demean a person who is sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings through this play, but they aren't of value or valid, because only you know what everyone else is thinking and feeling while no one else's feelings are valid or honest or truthfull. The deep, deep misunderstanding is yours. Other people and their thoguhts and feelings matter. You miss the point entirely. Go join up with the John Birch Society, they thought they had it figured out as well.

Anonymous said...

Ah well. As Steve Martin once said (and who, after all, started out as a poor black child): "Comedy is not pretty."

Pretty fly for a said...

at the end of this play the basic message that the audience gets is "being black is too hard. forget it. i'd rather go hang out with this white woman."

And here I thought the message was a little more positive, albeit stale: "Guess what, I only have to be myself in this crazy mixed up world we call life; and in the process, I found love." Foolish me.

Anonymous said...

So I, being absurdly ignorant about race issues, would like to take this opportunity to ask a question from a place of total ignorance: Is the simple belief that there is a difference between being black and being white "racist?" Because the subtext of a lot of these posts seems to be caucasian-identified folks saying "lighten up, you racist black people, we're over the whole racial divide. there's no such thing as a "right way" to be black." and then there are several people who have identified themselves as being black saying that this show missed an important element of cultural identity and that white folks are discounting and disregarding the importance of this element of cultural identity.

rather than clapping one another on the back and saying, "lighten up, i'm not a racist," maybe it would behoove everyone to understand why it is so important to black-identifying people to see a real, sensitive, and pride-filled ownership and portrayal of blacks and their culture, and why so many felt that was not satisfactorily represented by this production.

Anonymous said...

Obviously that was not what the author of this piece needed to say. What all the racist white identified people seem to be trying to say is "Let this performer make her point and if you have another point of view, write you own play." The idea that every play that is written by a person of color has to present, " a real, sensitive, and pride-filled ownership and portrayal of blacks and their culture" is limiting and prejudiced at least. That you, as many of your intolerant friends echoed, feel that this authors work is some how not "real" because it doesn’t agree with your point of view is pathetic. Discounting someone’s feelings or ideas based on the color of their skin is wrong. I wish you'd get that.

Anonymous said...

Toward the very end of his life, psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote "Modern Man in Search of a Soul," in which he wanted to draw together his theories into a readily accessible book. Keep in mind this was in the wake of World War II and the incredible destruction that had been wrought through Hitler's demonization of the Jews as a rallying point for German demoralization after World War I (and we now know that Jung walked some rather delicate tightropes himself through those difficult years).

However, what Jung especially wanted to point out was the immense danger of "the shadow" in modern life. (The term is Jung's and refers to a shadow in the sense of that which cannot be seen, much as we cannot see our shadow when it is cast behind us.) That is, the shadow is comprised of facets of our unconscious mind that we have repressed and cannot face. Until we come to grips with them, we will encounter them projected upon others, and their inherent power allow others to use them to manipulate us. In owning up to the shadow--that there are parts of ourselves that we despise and that, in fact, are the antithesis of how we see ourselves--we rob the projections of their psychic power.

Thus, hatred of "the other"--whether the other is of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nation, or political point of view--is a manifestation of a repressed part of our own personality. We are all predjudiced up to the point in which we accept we are all predjudiced. Once we begin to understand that those upon which we project our discomfort are actually mirroring the ways in which we hide from ourselves, we can begin to see others as individuals and not as "the enemy."

A white person can never know fully what it is like to be black; a black person can never fully know what it is like to be Asian; a straight person can never fully know what it is to be gay, and so on. And, honestly, no two straight people, gay people, black people, or white people can know exactly what it's like to be that other person. If we make generalizations, the shadow weaves itself into these patterns, a thread that makes these curtains all the more difficult to cut through. We can, however, strive to listen to each other honestly. We can try to accept that each of us can only wrestle with our personal demons, our history, and family, in our individual ways. And, perhaps most importantly, we can try to honestly listen to ourselves, to feel for the tender spots where the pain is buried, and know that wound is part of who we are. It's a messy and frustrating process, but it's a step in finding a path out of an overwhelming psychic thicket.

You and I don't own race or creed; we inherit it. It is our shadows that belong to us, and how we come to terms with the beasts behind our eyes defines the depth of our humanity.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:41

1, I haven't seen the play, so have no complaints myself, but am merely trying to synthesize a running theme i see through the comments, particularly those who feel personally injured. I was careful not to express any insult myself, which didn't seem to stop you from referring to me as one of "you people."

2, Just because an experience is "real" doesn't make it non-racist. I don't feel as though the concerns have been about the realism of this experience, but rather the shallow, stereotyped way in which it portrays blacks from a place of ignorance, not malice. If I were to write a play that had a running theme of, "my, what terrific servants black people make," that could be very true to my experience, but would everyone on this board still be like, "what are all you black people complaining about, that nice white girl was just portraying her real-life experience of how really great she thought it was to have black people waiting on her,"? I kind of doubt it. At least, I hope not.

Isn't there anyone besides myself who would rather hear why this story was so upsetting to so many people instead of hearing people proclaiming that these upset people should "lighten up."

Anon 9:12

The Great Pretender said...

After reading this thread for weeks now, I'm sick of white people AND black people and any other people in between. Puppies and kitties are next on my list if you folks don't move on.

Anonymous said...

"Puppies and kitties are next on my list if you folks don't move on."

How dare you? You couldn't possibly know what it means to be a kitten, and your damned speciesist attitude is appalling. What's next? A minstrel show production of human beings performing in cat-face? (Hmm...I wonder what that'd be like....?)

hr said...

Hey The Great Pretender, no one's forcing you to read this thread. duh.

I welcome this discussion. Thanks everyone.

The Great Pretender said...

Sorry, hr. My wife puts a gun to my head every night and actually DOES force me to read this.

In all honesty, there seems to be a very self-serving/self-righteous slant to alot of these posts that just rubs me the wrong way. And, maybe proving your point, I CAN'T make my way all the way through some of these postings.

I was trying to bring a refreshing touch of levity to this thread. My bad.

Ben Waterhouse said...

I don't know what a cat minstrel show would look like, but one thing's for sure--the set would prominently feature enormous cans of tuna.

I don't think I have much to add to the racism discussion, but I will say that I don't think there was any special significance to Yolanda Suarez' last name. There are two ways I see to interpret the apparantly-not-actually-African-American Whoopi: Either the puppeteer's ethnicity is irrelevant, as with Lane as Stevie Wonder, or her not-blackness serves to show that evil puppet Whoopi is just as much a projection of white American values as anything else in the show. Either way, I don't think latin-ness (or hispanidad, take your pick) really enters into it. Thoughts?

Pretty Fly for a said...

It's an actor playing a part, but more along the lines of a voice talent playing a part. I doubt Miss Suarez would have allowed herself to be cast because of her name. And to that point, understanding that Lava has puppeteering experience, has Lava ever played a white character, or even (gasp!) a monster? And what standards to we use to judge who should play what puppet? I can't wait for "Avenue Q" to be produced in town!

Anonymous said...

Julie Starbird played Whoopi at JAW, and there were no specifics listed when auditions took place, leading me to believe that the race of the puppeteer is irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

From Eric Bartels in Portland Tribune:

"This world premiere is nowhere near as controversial as advertised, nor is it more than occasionally funny, but audiences have lapped it up."

Guess he hasn't talked to any of the people who have posted here.

h said...

man, i feel like an important fact is being hugely overshadowed here: the black persons who commented all had negative feelings about the way black persons were being portrayed in Mutt. read that again.

blacks persons are a minority in portland*, a minority in portland theatre, a minority in the theatre-going audience. so perhaps the play was created FOR a white audience.

a big red flag that screams "PAY ATTENTION" pops up for me upon discovering that something i thought was "funny" is considered "insensitive" and even "insulting" across racial lines.

it's great that this conversation started, but it can't get the thoughtful treatment it deserves in this forum. if you give a shit, find a way to have this dialogue in person, and please give the minority a chance to be heard.

back to the play... it would be very interesting to see what a primarily black audience has to say about this play. i wish many hats would try to find out.

*according to a statistic i found at, portland is almost 78% white.

Anonymous said...

how do you know they aren't? the comments posted to this decidedly industry blog are hardly representative of any production's audience/feedback. they (or any show discussed here) could be getting quite different reactions outside the stage door than are reflected here.

Anonymous said...

From what I've heard, black and 'of color' play-goers have been enjoying this show as much as have been white play-goers. I don't think that the positive experience had by many blacks or other non-whites in the audience has been reflected on this thread. If not, that would probably be because people tend to write more when they're angry, don't you think? It's a better adrenaline fix.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding. This play was insightful and educational without being patronizing or assaulting. The choreography was engaging, the writing very strong, and Alapai is totally captivating. While the voice of the Whoopi puppet was a slight disappointment, the physical puppeteering delivered. The design elements were particularly impressive as was the general cohesion of the chorus. Jane Fellows gives an excellent performance. Run, don't walk, to closing weekend of Mutt.

Anonymous said...

I think the main thing here is this is meant to be a funny play. Take it as that. It’s not trying to be a definitive statement about race relations in America. It’s a fun journey through one person’s experiences.

The night I saw it, the audience had a great time. Everyone in the cast got big cheers at the end. Lots of laughs. There is no denying it captured people’s hearts.

Without question there are still lumps in the porridge. Sure, many things could be improved. However, the scale and scope of the critical apparatus people are hauling out to analyze this show may be out of whack with what it is.

Biggest problem for me was the dancing. Not that it wasn’t good – it was – but I kept asking why? How did it relate to the subject, and why was it so long? It almost felt like two shows intercut – the play and the dancing. I felt a lack of artistic intention here. So on the one hand, removing the dance would have taken away from what the show was, but the dance (I felt) had nothing wahtsoever to do with the show, and was akin to a fun diversion.