It's All Right

Karamu's satire on liberals turns oppressively conservative.

Stonewall Jackson's House Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street Through November 21, 216-795-7070, ext. 226
Women who are sexually abused are just man-hating feminists who probably had it coming.

Whether you agree with that statement or not (hopefully not), it proves how easy it is to be controversial: Just make a statement that goes against the currently accepted "liberal" conventional wisdom, and you're sure to ignite some arguments and maybe get yourself a book contract with Ann Coulter's publisher. At least that was true in the mid-1990s, when Jonathan Reynolds wrote Stonewall Jackson's House, an often amusing but relentlessly self-congratulatory diatribe on myriad racial, gender, and theatrical issues. Given an earnestly overcranked production by a talented Karamu cast, this play begins intriguingly, but devolves quickly into an extended screed that feels like one of the hundred or so right-wing radio shows now glutting the airwaves.

The playwright's central conceit is a play-within-a-play. It begins as an African American docent named LaWanda leads two white couples (one rich, one poor) through the house of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson; the guide is bored out of her mind and generally hostile to her small audience. But soon, she makes the odd decision to ask the wealthy Ohio couple whether she could go back with them and work as their slave. She says she's tired of responsibility and wants someone else to make all her decisions for her. Anyone smell an overripe allegory? Yes, once again the good ol' paternalistic welfare state is being trundled out for abuse, ignoring the fact that, since this play was written, federal funding has been largely ripped away from the deprived and funneled into the coffers of needy multinational corporations.

Of course, these events of the last few years aren't the playwright's fault, but the script of Stonewall fails at levels other than lack of contemporary relevance. Once the aforementioned characters switch and become folks running a small, progressive theater company who are struggling to pick culturally sensitive shows, the satirical approach ends and the lecture begins. LaWanda is now a venom-spewing conservative ideologue who actually wrote the play that began the evening. And like Elmer Fudd firing an enormous blunderbuss in all directions, she defends her artistic vision by lacerating government do-gooders, ethnocentrism, affirmative action, the exhilaration of black rioters, multiculturalism, nontraditional casting (horrors!), and dominant-submissive sexual relations.

Reynolds has some interesting and occasionally compelling points to make, but these gems are buried in an ultimately insufferable avalanche of familiar wing-nut tirades. Kimberly Brown gives the best performance as LaWanda, surfing her character's free-floating antiliberal paranoia with passion and purpose. David Duffield and Kate Duffield as the older couple also have many engaging moments. But director Hassan Rogers permits his actors to scream far too many lines and speeches.

This cacophonous pastiche is finally brought to a contrived conclusion when LaWanda's spirit is broken by lefty political correctness run amok. If you can buy that, this is the show for you.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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