The Culture Project
By WILLIAM HAMILTON
Century Center for the Performing Arts, 111 E. 15 St., NYC
October 6, 2004 - January 30, 2005
Directed by DAVID SCHWEIZER
Scenic Design JAMES NOONE
Lighting Design DAVID WEINER
Costume Design DAVID ZINN
Sound Design ROBERT KAPLOWITZ
Production Stage Manager SCOTT PEGG
Press Representative OPR/ORIGLIO PUBLIC RELATIONS
Deborah Beale – Lynn Whitfield
Brandon Beale – Reg E. Cathey
Vivian Beale Somerset – Julie Halston
Louise Beale – Samantha Soule
Winston Lee – Paul H. Juhn
Ashley Brown – Erik Laray Harvey
The set is dark, but there is a lot of talking in those opening moments of WHITE CHOCOLATE. Based on inflection, we are meant to surmise that we are listening to a wealthy couple. She is New York Jewish. He is a Thurston Howell III inspired WASP up for a coveted job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Playwright William Hamilton presumes that the audience will assume that these people are white. They are… or at least they used to be. Somehow, they have become part of a new class of person. They are color-transformed!
Hamilton uses the gimmick of the WHITE CHOCOLATE couple (Deborah and Brandon Beale) to set the frame, but all of the interactions are really about different groups coexisting. The Beales, after some repetitious moments adapting to their changes, decide to just be who they have become and tell the family. As expected, in spite of those unmistakable voices, no one accepts these Beales as those Beales. At least, not anyone who knew them intimately, like family.
The first such encounter occurs between Deborah, played with vivacity by Lynn Whitfield, and sister-in-law, Vivian, portrayed by Julie Halston, who all but steals the show. After initially mistaking Deborah for the maid, Vivian is told that the Beales are the Beales, just a different color. Vivian concludes that there is an elaborate performance art/masquerade party underway, and her subsequent actions guide much of the plot, and almost all of the comedy in WHITE CHOCOLATE. Vivian, proud blue blood that she is, drinks her cocktails as she waxes philosophical on topics ranging from race and class to drunken Catholics and wayward husbands. I will not even begin to describe the costume she elects to wear to the party except to say that it is the embodiment of bad taste.
In the course of Vivian’s descent into drunkenness, Beale offspring Louise comes home for the big Met announcement, but her entrance is really to enable the inclusion of an additional race card in the form of Chinese fiancé Winston. Expecting to be the big shocker of the day, Winston is surprised but accepting that the Beales, just as they look, are Louise’s parents. He, however, engages in some heated repartee with Brandon, and is presumed to be a computer technician by another Met hopeful, Ashley Brown. Does this bring the world of WHITE CHOCOLATE full circle? Perhaps.
In terms of production values, this show is rather respectable. The costumes capture the inner essence of the characters. The set is an odd combo of cardboard cutouts and plush furnishings, but that rather fits in the two-dimensional context that the denizens of WHITE CHOCOLATE dwell in. Of course, I must note here that author Hamilton is perhaps best known as a cartoonist for The New Yorker, and that there is a sense of that New Yorker style wit present in both the content and presentation of this play. The characters are neither stereotypes nor archetypes, but they are meant to specifically typify the generalizations they represent. This, the cast does well, with director David Schweizer right along side to guide them through the slightly overly-long, but essentially coherent script.
In an attempt at biting social satire that never hits those high notes, but comes respectably close, William Hamilton’s WHITE CHOCOLATE exploits prejudice, stereotype, race relations and socioeconomic disparity to find the funny. Ostensibly a play about a rich couple who wake up one day to find that their skin has changed color, this intentionally less-than-politically-correct offering takes issue with much more than the color lines called "black" and "white."
- Kessa De Santis -