'Dutchman' goes deep to see what lies underneath
Tami Dixon says it's time to talk about racism in America.
"It's time to tear off the Band-Aid and deal with what has been created by slavery," says Dixon, the producing artistic director of Bricolage Production Company, Downtown. "If these conversations are only allowed to happen in February (Black History Month), then we are missing the legacy of African-American people and the stench of racism."
Dixon also is an actress and founding member of the August Wilson Center's theater ensemble. She has performed at City Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre and Quantum Theatre as well as in Bricolage Productions.
Tonight she begins performing as Lula in Amiri Bakara's "Dutchman," a short-but-incendiary drama produced by Bricolage that Dixon hopes will be a surefire conversation-starter.
An Obie Award-winning play that debuted in 1964 at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Manhattan, "Dutchman" goes beneath the surface of political correctness and underground into the New York subway system where Clay, a young black poet, encounters Lula, a seductive white woman. Provocation, aggression, intimidation and violence erupt while passengers watch or avert their eyes.
"The piece is a punch in the gut -- so raw, so ugly -- it forces you to think," Dixon says. "If you just like drama, this is chock-full of drama. What starts as two people meeting on a subway ends as an atrocity.
"Although there's subtext and symbolism seething below the dialogue, the characters are not archetypes," Dixon says. "These are people with dimension and history. She's not just a white succubus. They are so human. Racism happens with some of the nicest people in the world."
Dixon and director Mark Clayton Southers first wrestled with "Dutchman" in 2007 when Bricolage did it as part of its staged reading series.
Southers has returned as director and Dixon reprises her role as Lula, this time opposite Jonathan Berry as Clay. Five ensemble members will fill the roles of subway passengers.
Though it's now just two years short of its 50th anniversary, the play still has a lot to say, Dixon says.
Last July, as she and artistic director Jeffrey Carpenter were planning the season, they felt an election year might be an appropriate time to do a full production.
"We would see it was saying something larger to the community, something they could tap into," Dixon says. Recent and ongoing events in black high-school student Jordan Miles' legal case against a trio of white officers whom he claims beat and arrested him for no reason in 2010 and February's fatal shooting of another black student, Trayvon Martin, in Florida added urgency to the plans.
"Nobody wants to talk about race. It's obvious why. There are no solutions. ... The situation is hopeless. Nobody wants to say this, but hopeless in our lives," Southers says.
However, Southers says, "Theater and drama is the perfect venue to talk about these things."
To spark that conversation, Bricolage will have a talk-back session after each performance, including special matinee performances for older high-school students.
Topics will include: "What is Race?," "American Apartheid" and "How Prejudiced are You? Cultural Perceptions in 'Post Radical' America."
It's an evening of theater that promises to be challenging, but not unpleasant.
Audiences, Southers says, "will be pulled into it and then will be effected in different ways. ... They will be immersed in it. There will not be anyone (who leaves) saying 'Let's go get something to eat and talk about hockey.' "
"We're not into punishing an audience. We want to give them amazing stories. ... It will leave people sad, angry, guilty or ashamed. We want them to take these ... emotions and turn them into something positive," Dixon says.
Produced by: Bricolage Production Company
When: Tonight through May 12 at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays
Where : Bricolage Production Company, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown
Details: 412-471-0999 or www.bricolagepgh.org