Scholars go wild in ‘Blackademics’ 

click to enlarge Lauren Spencer, left, and Safiya Fredericks play professors whose banter turns into heated and physical debate in Crowded Fire Theater’s local premiere of “Blackademics.” - COURTESY PAK HAN
  • COURTESY PAK HAN
  • Lauren Spencer, left, and Safiya Fredericks play professors whose banter turns into heated and physical debate in Crowded Fire Theater’s local premiere of “Blackademics.”
In Idris Goodwin’s satirical “Blackademics,” now in its West Coast premiere at Crowded Fire Theater, two African American professors in the Midwest meet for a celebratory dinner. Ann (an expansively cheery Safiya Fredericks with a big, bouffant hairdo), who teaches African-American culture at a local liberal arts college, has just received tenure.

Her lesbian friend, Rachelle (Lauren Spencer, tough and restless), who teaches at an institution of lesser stature, has just lost her job; classes on African-American literature and rhetoric have been replaced by “just rhetoric,” which Rachelle, being black, is, it seems, assumed to be unqualified to teach. Also, she’s been told she’s not “ethnic enough” in her appearance — that is, not black enough.

That the restaurant is completely empty – of other customers, food and furniture – is preposterously, comically, absurd. The women are told that an unseen chef will award them a table, a chair, a fork, a tiny sampling of food and other items based on which of them “wins” in a series of debates and other competitive activities. When they try to leave, there is apparently no exit.

The white server, Georgia (Michele Apriña Leavy, both patronizing and creepily perky), offers them each a single seed from her hand as an aperitif. They gingerly accept the “handout.”

The increasingly heated arguments between the two, often conducted in a kind of shorthand and briskly paced by Crowded Fire’s new artistic director, Mina Morita, range from the intellectual and political to the personal.

In one hilarious coda, they compete over who knows more about famous white artists, each seeking to top the other by shrieking out an endless series of names: Dostoyevsky! Beethoven! Flannery O’Connor!

Things escalate when it turns out they’ve been drugged into a quiescent state.

All three are gripped by a metaphorical hunger. Ann and Rachelle, starving for the food that the server is withholding, crave professional recognition. Georgia’s unseemly appetite may be for the very essence of black culture that the two scholars represent. Interaction among all three devolves into violence.

Crowded Fire’s production tends toward the physically awkward at times as it plays out on the small stage, and the two main actors don’t always manage to finesse Goodwin’s fragmented and purposefully choppy dialogue.

But in general, this is a satisfyingly provocative look at the social and political implications of race relations and power dynamics in, theoretically, a post-racial America.

REVIEW

Blackademics

Presented by Crowded Fire Theater

Where: Thick House, 695 18th St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes May 2

Tickets: $15 to $35

Contact: (415) 746-9238, www.crowdedfire.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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