While Oreo delivers some food for thought on the topic of race, it lacks solid performances from its actors, and needs audio finetuning.
by Sarah Deshaies
Kaye has white friends, white clothes and white “tendencies.” No problem, except that the heroine of the play Oreo is a black woman. “According to some people, I’m bad at being black,” is how she terms her disconnect with her appearance and her actions.
Kaye is an aspiring artist with a penchant for Steely Dan getting over a premature marriage. She works with her queer best friend at Herotica, a forward, woman-oriented sex shop, where they serve charmingly quirky customers. Between the store and frequent flashbacks, Kaye broaches touchy subjects like affirmative action, fetishization and political correctness.
...promises a play about “racial identity, dildos and delicious snacks.”
The third opus from C’est La Vie Theatre, a company that produces audio recordings of plays for download in podcast form - meaning you can stream it on your computer or take it to go in your pocket on an MP3 device - promises a play about “racial identity, dildos and delicious snacks.” While Oreo delivers some food for thought on the topic of race, it lacks solid performances from its actors, and needs audio finetuning.
Nadine Thornhill wrote the semi-autobiographical play, starring as Kaye in the 2009 debut at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. She drew on her own experience of being called an ‘oreo.’ The racial slur is a label for someone who is considered black on the outside, and white on the inside - in other words, a black person who’s lost sight of their roots.
And small, niggling audio details kept cropping up...
Thornhill writes about an array of thorny issues more politically correct playwrights wouldn’t touch, and she brings them into Kaye’s life with a humorous touch. David, Kaye’s teenage lover and husband-to-be, gushes over her beauty in a belittling way. (“You’re the prettiest black girl I know!” he exclaims. “Except for Halle Berry.” Oh, David.) One dimwitted customer praises Kaye for her excellent command of the English language despite her origins. A steely Kaye runs circles around the woman by feeding her a batch of lies about how she was excommunicated from the international fraternity of black people, and has learned proper English in order to assimilate.
The actors rattle through their lines in around 40 minutes, barely giving time to let the drama breathe. In a bid to sound casual and modern, caustic best friend Sidney utters the line, “bitch please” a couple of times to Kaye - but it sounds faux and grates on the ears.
CharPo contributor Joel Fishbane’s deep voice is a tad comical as David, who goes from teenager to jilted lover. The girl carrying the whole show is Olivia Blocker as Kaye. While Kaye is a young woman who embarked on a marriage too soon and realizes she doesn’t quite know herself, Blocker sounds too immature for the role. Blocker and Fishbane have to take their characters through adolescence to 20something adulthood, and we can hear the distinction. But lines roll off Blocker’s tongue without sounding like there’s not much thought behind them.
I don’t know if company director Sarah Mahoney was faithfully aiming to cast someone in order to remain true to the original.
I have no idea what Thornhill, the original Kaye, sounds like, so I don’t know if company director Sarah Mahoney was faithfully aiming to cast someone in order to remain true to the original. Blocker is chirp and chatter with an edge, but Kaye needs more gravitas to mull over her identity convincingly.
And small, niggling audio details kept cropping up, like the use of MIA’s “Jimmy” that washes out a conversation in the final 10 minutes of the show.
Mahoney’s C’est La Vie project is a fantastic idea to make independent theatre more accessible. With Oreo, she shows that she can pick light material that comes with real ideas behind it.
What C’est La Vie needs now with its third project behind it is stronger casting and audio engineering.
Oreo is available at the web site or at iTunes.
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