The White Card

by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday March 2, 2018

Daniel Gerroll, Patricia Kalember, and Karen Pittman in The White Card. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography
Daniel Gerroll, Patricia Kalember, and Karen Pittman in The White Card. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography  

The world premiere of Claudia Rankine's "The White Card" is a must-see event for Boston theater.

Co-produced by ArtsEmerson and American Repertory Theater, the play is written by acclaimed author, poet, and MacArthur Fellow Claudia Rankine, and directed by A.R.T.'s Tony award-winning Artistic Director Diane Paulus.

It centers around a dinner party thrown by wealthy Manhattan art collectors, Virginia and Charles, as they attempt to woo a young female African American photographer, Charlotte, into selling them her work. But, despite all their lip service to being conscious of their white privilege, they cannot seem to be able to get a single sentence out without their lack of true understanding shining through their carefully crafted veneer.

Complicating matters further are the couple's gallerist/art advisor, Eric, who clearly worships wealth and thinks any conflict can be solved with money, and their earnest, well-meaning, young son, Alex, who is devoted to trying to correct societies wrongs through Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).

Ms. Rankine's script is fluid and subtle, yet loaded with subtext and coded language. Most of the revelatory moments are just simple statements that cut into your very being. It's a play that makes a home for itself in your head, demanding to be carried with you and contemplated during quiet moments.

Ms. Paulus' direction is delightfully invisible. Partially, this is due to the absolutely impeccable performances of the cast: Karen Pittman as Charlotte, Patricia Kalember and Daniel Gerroll as Charles and Virginia, Jim Poulos as Eric, and Colton Ryan as Alex.

All of this is heightened to a new level by Riccardo Hernandez' stunning transformation of the Paramount Theater. The performance takes place in a literal white box, with the audience members seated on either side and facing each other. Not only are you watching the action, you are watching the audience - which, let's face it, in Boston is predominantly white, heteronormative, and upper middle class. It is a spectacular underline to the play's themes.

Ms. Rankine has given us a challenging, timely, and necessary work that deserves both our undivided attention and praise.

"The White Card" continues through April 1 at the Emerson Paramount Center Robert J. Orchard Stage, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the ArtsEmerson website.