Thursday, May 12, 2011

What My Husband Doesn’t Know: Anatomy of an Ethnic Theatre Experience

 A few weeks ago, I attended David E. Talbert’s stage production of What My Husband Doesn’t Know.  I agreed to attend this play with a great deal of hesitation; so-called “black” plays and movies are just not my thing. In fact, when I do go to a “black” movie, I catch the first show on Sunday; when most folks are either at church or sleeping off their Saturday night. You see, I prefer the Eurocentric theatre experience. Generally and comparatively speaking, it is quiet and orderly. Men and women are dressed in muted attire, attention seeking agendas are discreet and common courtesy is the rule rather than the exception.

Not long after arriving at the venue, I was reminded of all the reasons I should have declined this particular invitation (just goes to show you what intense cabin fever will do to the psyche).

The technical aspects of the production rivaled any modest theatrical undertaking. The set was well-designed and believable as the home of the affluent couple portrayed. The lighting and live musical accompaniment suited the nature and pace of the play, although the audio would have greatly benefited from the venue having a sound system specifically designed for live performances.

According to Talbert who is both the writer and producer of the play, the intent of the storyline was to speak to the challenges of maintaining a healthy marital relationship. However, the plot was simple and predictable, with an ending that rushed to tie up all of the loose ends, leaving people with a critical eye with more questions than answers. A play that was supposed to offer commentary on the dangers of infidelity became a celebration of selfishness. The intended message was lost among the love scenes between the wife and her lover which generated more applause than the intimate scenes between the husband and wife; as a romantic I found that deeply disappointing; I am forever in fidelity’s corner.

The additional underlying messages, both subtle and obvious, were also truncated by the number of audience-generated distractions. As the curtain rose and for thirty minutes afterwards, people were still filing into their seats, talking on their cell phones and to each other as they made their way to their seats in the middle of the row. These same people would be the first to exit at intermission as well as the last to return and not necessarily on time.

Each time one of the leading men, which included the deliciously mahogany Morris Chestnut, removed their shirt, the women in the audience screamed at muscles and abs as if they were attending an all male revue. People (women) routinely shouted aloud, responding to what was occurring on stage (“I love you, Morris!”, being the most frequent “shout-out” offered). Some of the catcalling went on in front of dismayed husbands and boyfriends. It made me wonder what would have happened of those husbands and boyfriends had started shouting at the female cast members during their more provocative scenes.

I was struck that there was a photographer perched in the lobby taking pictures for $10.00 as if we were in a nightclub and that if I wanted the official playbill, I would have to purchase it as well. These things just don’t happen in my preferred theatre venue.

Then there was the manner of dress, which ranged from the appropriate to the absurd. Every available stereotype was represented; pimps donned in brightly colored baggy suits, adorned with feathered hats and ornate walking canes; divas, fake and authentic, some dressed for a revival and others dressed for the ride down the stripper pole, accessorized with all manner of weave and bling. I swear a woman stood so close to me that I felt her three inch long eyelashes brush across the back of my neck.

There were moments when I felt that I was the only one surprised by what I saw. But if you looked closely you could see embarrassment and resolve in the eyes of fellow onlookers. We tried not to make eye contact, suffering in silence. Our unspoken words cut through our dejected silence. The silence, also stunned, whispered, “Just once I’d like to go to a “black” play and it not turn out like this!”

My next theatre experience will find me in my comfort zone. With my fur on and phone off; my playbill in one hand and my lover’s hand in the other. And I won’t be trying to make sense of “what my husband doesn’t know”.