The question posited by Jeff Talbott’s “The Submission” is one of ownership. Who owns a story? And, whose tale is it to tell?
Danny (played by Nicholas Bailey) has written a play. More specifically he has written a play about the hardships of growing up as a young black man, raised by a single mother in a bad part of town. Apparently, it is also a brilliant play. The only problem is that Danny is a middle-class white gay man. He has nothing in common with his characters, and no idea how to relate to anyone who does.
Danny hires an actress named Emilie (played by Ginneh Thomas) to portray the embodiment of his pen name, so that when his play is accepted into the prestigious Humana Festival, she can represent him in the rehearsal hall without his own identity being revealed.
Through the duration of the work, we see the relationship between Danny and Emilie become more and more strained as it turns out that Danny tends to be a racist who’s hired a black woman, and Emilie tends to be a homophobe who is working for a gay man. Each is unable to see the other’s side of things on most issues, because they fail to see the other as fully human. Danny’s husband and best friend (Edward Fraim and Adam Pasen, respectively) are caught in the crossfire, leaving no character coming out of this play without scars and blood on their hands.
The script that is referenced within the actual play is supposedly filled with harsh language, and that is true of Talbott’s work as well. Hateful, biting exchanges flow out of these characters’ mouths smoothly and naturally, causing the audience to occasionally even flinch and cover their faces to shield themselves from the onslaught. The fact that these verbal assaults feel like they belong and add, rather than detract, from the play is a credit to director Jude Hansen’s guidance of his actors.
It is an intense and meaningful evening of theater that starts with laughs and turns quickly to gasps of shock. And everything points to the still-unsolved issue of whether writers can only tell the tales of their own race, class, sexuality, etc. It seems that the answer put forth by this play is that the only way to find out is through honest and sometimes brutal communication. The brutality is what makes this play shine. (Christopher Kidder-Mostrom)
Pride Films and Plays at The Apollo Studio Theatre, 2540 North Lincoln, (773)935-6100, pridefilmsandplays.com. $25. Through November 25.