The White Card: A Play by Claudia Rankine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This work was anything but subtle. In this short play, Claudia Rankine lays bare the ugly insidiousness that is American racism, and the shape that it takes in spaces that purport to be sympathetic and progressive. We are gathered at a posh dinner party in Tribeca where homeowners Charles and Virginia are entertaining their guest Charlotte, a Black artist whose work on racism has piqued their interest. There's also Eric, an art dealer, who acts as a liaison between Charlotte and the family. Charles and Virginia's son Alex also joins conversation later on. While the dinner party begins innocently enough, it slowly but surely devolves as the discussion around racism begins to hit a little too close to home for the family.
I felt a lot of emotions reading this. Annoyance, frustration, maybe even a bit of anger, but also... boredom. Don't get me wrong, the work itself was compelling; I found myself very much drawn into the dialogue between the characters. But I found Charles, Virginia, and Eric to be quite banal. And maybe that was the point. I've been in Charlotte's shoes time and time again, dealing with the types of people Rankine is presenting here. People who can't see you as you, because they're so busy seeing you as whatever version of "Black" exists in their imagination. People who can't see you as you because they refuse to see themselves. There was a lot of power in the dialogue, but for those of us who have had lived experiences comparable to Charlotte, there was nothing new here at all. Claudia Rankine was very much so on the money, maybe a little too much so.
The play itself was minimalist in style, which worked for the piece. There were only two scenes, the first of which is the dinner party where whiteness is quite literally on display. "Everything in the room is white except for the art." Though I have not had the pleasure of actually seeing this play, I imagine that the stark whiteness of the space really enhanced and reinforced Rankine's point that in the face of perpetual Black death, what really needs to be confronted is whiteness. The second scene was interesting, and I'm still figuring out how I'm feeling about the ending. Overall though, it was a solid piece of work for its size. While not much actually happens, there's a LOT to unpack as far as dialogue and subtext are concerned.
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