Out thespian Ron Jones tackles the potent subject of race in America in the regional premiere of Bruce Graham’s 2017 drama White Guy on the Bus, which runs Aug. 23–Sept. 7 at Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH).
The presentation by Dirt Dogs Theatre Company turns its characters’ conversations into a full-contact sport. The plot itself is suspenseful, with unexpected turns and thought-provoking surprises.
When the widely praised theater group asked Jones to direct the show, he says, “I read it the first time and didn’t know what to think, so I read it again and I got some idea how to do it. It finally dawned on me to just let the characters tell the story. As gay people, we know about racism; we know how it feels to be oppressed and ostracized.”
However, the play’s African-American character, Shatique, might disagree that dear white people can possibly understand how real the struggle is. She’s a 26-year-old single mom who works a “depressing” job at an assisted-living facility while studying to become a nurse. At one point, the title character even checks her for playing “the slavery card.”
As the only “white guy on the bus,” Ray wears expensive, expertly tailored clothes. So why’s he riding this inner-city bus? Just “slummin’?” Shatique accuses him. “Troll the buses, lookin’ for a little dark meat?”
We learn that his actual motive is even more perverse than that.
The play’s most noble character is Ray’s wife, Roz, a dedicated white teacher whose predominantly black, impoverished students treat her disrespectfully. “Every week in the faculty room they have a betting pool on how many times I get called ‘bitch.’ Or should I say ‘white bitch.’ I think the record was, like, eighteen.”
Ray says that Roz likes to “stir things up, push people’s buttons.” That’s also a trait championed by Dirt Dogs Theatre Company, which last season produced David Mamet’s wickedly funny Boston Marriage and Eric Bogosian’s purposely provocative Talk Radio.
The group’s fourth season will follow White Guy on the Bus with The Dead Eye Boy by Angus MacLachlan next February and Farragut North by Beau Willimon in May.
What: White Guy on the Bus
When: Aug. 23–Sept. 7
Where: Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH)
Details: dirtdogstheatre.org or 713.521.4533