White Card Review – The Blindness of the World of Liberal Art for Privileges Theater

ANDlex tells Charlotte that he is angry that “your people” are locked up. He doesn’t seem to notice her quietly spoken answer, “Why doesn’t he just say people?” The two have just met in a Manhattan loft apartment by Black Lives Matter activist and parent of art collector student Alex’s collector. Charles and Virginia specialize in African-American art and “racial-themed” art. As Virginia says, showing examples displayed around a gleaming dinner table and white sofas, “the couple’s commitment is on the walls” (in Debbie Duro’s set, pictures not shown, but super-sized audience imaginations suggested, gallery-style descriptor boards). Charlotte meets the couple by their friend and art dealer Eric, who hopes to invest in her work. When Charles, impressed by Charlotte’s “measured” behavior, considers inviting her to join the board of his foundation, Eric replies, “That would solve the problem of diversity.”

Claudia Rankine’s 2019 play of ideas, set during Trump’s presidency, is a multiple exploration of the invisibility of whiteness, the root of racism in the United States. (Rankine is an American poet and essayist as well as a playwright.) In a sharp production by Natalie Ibu, her importance to the United Kingdom is highlighted during the entr’acte: stage changers hold mirrors, reflecting the audience back to themselves.

Charles unexpectedly visits Charlotte in her studio a year later. Since the conflict at dinner, the artist has shifted the focus of her work from “black suffering”, which inadvertently allowed the viewer to “not look into whiteness”. It is now focusing on making visible the construct of whiteness and “ordinary complicity” of whites in racial violence. This turn of the table terrifies Charles: “I’m not that history!”

The show’s challenges in terms of viewing style are strongly presented by a strong ensemble, with a special emphasis on Charlotte Estelle Daniels and Charles Matthew Pidgeon. I recommend them too.

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