Review by Travis Manni
(Boston, MA) I know what you’re thinking. Oh great, another play about race. And yes, this is a play about race. But the problem people don’t see in this thought process is that art exists as a response to society and our experiences living in it. Plays about race would not need to be written if we did in fact live in a post-racial society. So yes, this is a show about race, and if that bothers you then you are exactly the person that needs to see this play.
Shelby (Desiré Hinkson), a senior RA, is struggling to keep her floor of freshmen under control after someone posts a racist drawing on a black student’s door. The story unfolds as other freshmen from the dorms express their rage while the girl that posted it refuses to accept responsibility for her actions, incessantly claiming it was “just a fucking joke.” But her excuse doesn’t sit well with the others, and Shelby has to figure out the best way to resolve the issue before things get out of hand.
I’ve always felt very uncomfortable talking about race because as a white male my privilege often makes me feel invalid. And this play did make me feel uncomfortable and angry and empowered. But the greatest thing that Baltimore teaches is to revel in the discomfort. If anything, that sensation means something is screaming to be talked about. And Baltimore is the perfect platform for this because it is told through the eyes of college students who are fed up. And trust me when I say that a group of sick-of-this-bullshit students is the best medium to ignite conversations.
Hinkson plays the blossoming Shelby, a girl who denies race to avoid dealing with the complexities of racism, with a great tenderness. She is determined and smart, but afraid to deal with the emotional turmoil that is plaguing her students. It was so fascinating to see a young black woman lie to herself and pretend, almost, to wear a mask of white privilege. Spearheading the charge against her were the fearlessly strong Rachel (Linda Vanesa Perla Giron-Blanco) and Leigh (Jade’ Davis), both freshmen who had different, more ethnically diverse, expectations of what attending college would be like. Giron-Blanco and Davis deliver such powerful performances as young Latino and Black women respectively that I was transfixed by how they commanded their scenes. Both were unapologetically confident and authentic, and to see such strengths in two young actors was beautiful.
This play is immersive. The theatre in the round space forces the audience to live the characters’ experiences with them in a way that feels warranted and necessary. There were certain scenes when the characters made direct eye contact with the audience and I’ve never felt more emotionally tied to another person in my life. Every young actor in this production was willing to put in the effort to tell this story, and the result is nothing shy of explosive. There are no weak links.
To say Baltimore is a play about race would be true, but it would not do the show justice. This show is a social conversation that engages and uproots the idealistic perspective on race. Nothing is as straightforward and easy as we wish it could be. This play is for high schooolers and for college students. For people with privilege and for those who refuse to see that they have it. We do not live in a post-racial society. Baltimore doesn’t fix this problem, but it sure as hell is a step in the right direction.
Baltimore was commissioned by the Big Ten Theatre Consortium as a part of an initiative to support new plays by women with major roles for female actors. It runs for 1 hour, 40 minutes. Tickets can be purchased here. If you are a BU student with a school ID, admission is free at the door pending availability. You have no excuses people. Go see this play.