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Brownie Points

a World Premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Janece Shaffer

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 3616

SHOWING : February 03, 2010 - February 28, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

When a fierce, unexpected storm strands a group of mothers and daughters on an overnight campout in the North Georgia mountains, ethnic and religious prejudices—some latent, others blatant—bubble to the surface and force the adults to examine which is deeper: the shared experience of motherhood or the conflicting judgments of their upbringing. In Brownie Points, Janece Shaffer (winner of the 2009 Gene Gabriel Moore Playwright Award for Managing Maxine) is at her most comical, touching and provocative as she dramatizes the dynamic of stereotypes in human relations. There will be a post show discussion facilitated for the audience following every performance. Recommended for ages 12 and up, for adult language.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Jasmine Guy
Sound Designer Chris Bartelski
Set Designer Jamie Bullins
Lighting Designer Rob Dillard
Hair & Wig Designer J. Montgomery Schuth
Co-Sound Designer Jon Summers
Costume Designer Chase Wagner
Deidre Terry Burrell
Allison Carolyn Cook
Sue Mary Kathryn Kaye
Jamie Courtney Patterson
Nicole Nevaina Rhodes
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Momtalk
by Dedalus
Friday, February 19, 2010
4.0
Janece Shaffer’s “Brownie Points” (currently at Theatrical Outfit) starts off on an uncomfortable note. Racial politics hang in the air like a London fog, and I braced myself for a marathon of well-meaning babble in which story and character play second fiddle to “talking about race.”

To my surprise, the play went in a totally different direction, and the discomfort I felt was fully intended, fully congruent with the playwright’s intentions to try to break down that discomfort.

Five “Brownie moms” have brought their troop to a Fulton County forest lodge for their first overnight camping trip. When the two African-American moms are consigned to KP duty for the entire weekend, angry cries of racism come out of the blue, and angry cries of denial lead to bitterness. There follows a fast-paced sequence of arguments and reconciliations, punctuated by a thunderstorm, a blackout, and a ton of uncomfortable talk. And it all ends on a whimsical mom-bond, in which motherhood trumps race, and an optimistic truce descends on the lodge.

See! Even this rudimentary plot description pushes all the warning buttons that come whenever race is discussed. What this play does well is center it on these five women, each fully developed, each carrying layers of baggage and emotional need. We hear (but never see) the troop of seven-year-olds, but we certainly see the frazzled faces of their caretakers. We see (and hear) emotional outbursts long before we hear the “back-story” that justifies them. In other words, we’re forced into a “zone of discomfort” that gradually eases, actions making sense as we learn more about the characters.

Which, of course, is precisely the point. All of our “race buttons” and reactions seem to be based on knee-jerk emotional responses. “Oh don’t play the race card with me” or “You better talk to me with respect” or “How can I be a racist when I [fill in this space with any see-I’m-not-a-racist activity]?” or “How can you possibly know what I deal with day-to-day?” But when we finally break through those knee-jerk responses, when we actually make the effort to find commonality, then the conversation can really begin.

And these women have commonality to spare. On the top level, it is motherhood. All of them are primarily concerned with the effect these arguments, these fights will have on their witnessing daughters. From Deidre’s concern about her daughter “seeing the only brown women in the kitchen” to the divorced Sue’s concern about “seeing the adults arguing,” each character is concerned about what the girls are witnessing, about giving the right “teaching moment.” Is it any wonder that the final scene resonates so much, both with its ruefully funny “Mom stories” and its “We made this mess, now let’s fix it together” implications (not to mention its air of "the kids are asleep so we can finally relax")?

And all the women have unfortunate incidents, based on race, or situation, or simple ill fortune. All speak in the wary cadences of survivors, of stiff-upper-lip soldiering on in the face of whatever is around the next turn in the trail. And all have a grim sense of humor, an ability to laugh at themselves even as they’re haranguing each other.

This is, indeed, a play more about character than story, and these actresses all rise to the occasion. Terry Burrell is outstanding as Deidre, irritating in her first seemingly over-sensitive outrage, moving when we find the incident that leads to it, funny in her out-of-place-in-the-woods mistakes (high heels on a camping trip?). Carolyn Cook makes a welcome appearance as troop leader Allison, terse and strident, she is also the uber-organizer, anal to a fault, and unable to tolerate the slightest deviation from “the plan,” yet surprisingly poignant with her back-story reveal. Courtney Patterson is simply wonderful as Jaime, “the Jewish mom,” the comic relief with a smile for everyone, whether it’s deserved or not. The cast is rounded out with Nevaina Rhodes as Nicole and Mary Kathryn Kaye as Sue. Nicole is the “other brown mom,” who has a long history with Allison, and who has a few disturbing “racially outsider” moments of her own. Sue is the divorced single mom, emotionally conflicted by her role as peacemaker. Together, these women gel perfectly in one of the better ensembles of the season, a credit to the actresses and to their director, Jasmine Guy.

Set designer Jamie Bullins has put together a nicely cramped (and symbolically skewed) lodge, isolated in the midst of a dark but friendly forest. Sound and Lights help evoke the isolation as the thunderstorm progresses into night, and it all comes together as a brisk 90-minute talkfest.

So, what’s the Brownie Point of the whole endeavor? Simply not to be afraid to talk about race, to acknowledge preconceptions and prejudices, and work through them with your friends. It's an obvious point that we all have significant differences in ethnicity, in outlook, in means, in experience. What isn't always so obvious is that we also have significant commonalities, especially when it comes to marriage and to parenting and to figuring out what to do in the woods.

This all seems so obvious, but, since we tend to forget it, it all bears repeating. Points to Theatrical Outfit for staging “Brownie Points.”

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)








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