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Review: 'Dutchman' takes audience on a deep, emotional journey

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 2:46 p.m.

Back in 1964, playwright Amiri Baraka, then known as Leroi Jones, wrote an incendiary short play called "Dutchman."

In the midst of the political and social upheaval, "Dutchman" openly exposed the wounds inflicted by slavery, segregation and bigotry as well as the potential tragedy that might result.

His metaphoric-yet-visceral drama focused on an encounter between Lula, a young white woman, and Clay, a young black man, on a New York City subway train.

It's probably unnecessary to say that the encounter ends badly.

Nearly half a century later, Bricolage Productions has brought the play to its tiny Cultural District stage, where it's being performed through May 12.

What's possibly most horrific about the production is how contemporary it still is. It's not a matter of ripping off the scabs. The wounds Baraka wrote about remain as raw, painful and inflamed as they were then.

Whether you are black, white, Asian or Arab, this is a play that cannot help but make you squirm with discomfort, embarrassment, recognition and concern.

Baraka swung wide with his condemnation of both Clay and Lula, as well as the subway passengers who share the car with them.

Director Mark Clayton Southers, set designer Jesse Connor, lighting designer Jeffrey Small and sound designer Dave Bjornson have created an environmental setting that uses Bricolage's lobby, with its glazed white ceramic tile walls and floors, to create the feeling of a New York City subway station. That continues inside the theater space that resembles a dim, well-used station platform and puts the subway car at the center of the room with banked seating along both of the long walls.

A half-dozen subway passengers create ambience.

But the harsh glare of the spotlight is on Jonathan Berry and Tami Dixon -- Clay and Lula -- as they engage in a dangerous tango of attraction and repulsion, seduction and evasion, aggression and defense. They're both excellent at balancing these bipolar qualities without telegraphing the final outcome. When it comes, it's simultaneously shocking and inevitable.

Hoping to extend the conversation about race relations, Bricolage has invited a different group of community leaders and activists to lead a discussion with the audience after each performance. That's commendable and might help you sort out or articulate your reactions.

But the show's content and subtext is so powerful, you may prefer to ponder in private.

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