The Great Awkward Hope displayed both the good, funny aspects of awkward, and the bad aspects of the word. The play follows a man, Jeff, as he tries to write a play about himself writing a play in which he plays Jack Johnson, the famous African American boxer. Consequently, he must deal with race issues that come with being a white man playing a black man and how to be racially inclusive in his work.
The play is very successful, particularly at the beginning, at showing the hesitant, fearful way in which people, particularly white people, enter into conversations about race.
Many of the characters represent the people we know very well. Sulma, played by Maia Greene-Havas is overly politically-correct, complaining that it is racist for a white man to play a black character but equally offensive to ask a black man to play the role just because he’s black.
Marvin, played by Marvin Seay, is the black man who works with Jeff. Marvin and Jeff have many hilariously awkward conversations about race throughout the production. The play really capitalizes on making light of the sense of indiscreet confusion and hesitancy with which white people tip-toe around racial topics.
Written and directed by Jeff Reiser, the play center’s around his characters attempt to find what the heart of the play should be. His final answer is different than the outcome. The heart of the play seems to be exploring, with the dry, Office-style humor, important topics such as white-guilt, inclusive education and other things.
In this theme, the play is wonderfully self-deprecating. At one point, the characters mention how they want to avoid writing in a non-sequitur to the play. Then enters Darth Vader asking for tasty treats. At another point, Sulma complains about her lines which are yet to come. It’s a fresh style of doing theatre.
It’s a neat idea: using the play-within-a-play theme centered around Jack Johnson and each of the cast does what is necessary to make the play a success. That said, it’s incredibly rough around the edges. I wish that they had been able to smooth out some of the long, awkward scene changes. Often times, the stage would go dark, and the audience would have to wait while the person controlling the lights walked around the back of the audience to the backstage to switch with an actor. It would be besides mentioning except that it happened on many occasions which gave the play a ponderous, disjointed quality. Additionally, on many equations, the actors stumbled over their lines which hampered the otherwise effective natural feel.
Luckily, these are easy problems to fix and once polished off, Reiser’s play has the potential to be a very successful, entertaining piece that is informative and analytical about race politics along with being wickedly dry in humor.
Running Time: 65 minutes.