By Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed by Jessica Thebus
At the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre
Unrealistic premise mars contemporary relationship drama
Playwright Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer is about love, race and class presented in a darkly comic contemporary view of the effects of a gentrified neighborhood in New york City. While Wilson’s exploration of the effects of white folks living in a modernized rehab building, she bases the relationship on an unlikely premise. We meet Jackson (Eric Lynch), an African-American Harvard Law grad as he tells us his ‘story;’ followed by Suzy (Lee Stark) his white girlfriend who teaches in the nearby high school. Lastly, we meet Don (Shane Kenyon), Jackson’s best friend from prep school. Don is a drug addict from an affluent family.
After a scene where Jackson convinces Suzy to move in with him against her wishes since she is nervous about the neighborhood since much of the criminal element is still lurking on the streets. But, the amenities of the rehabbed condo and Jackson’s charm win the day. But Jackson tells Suzy that Don will also live with them despite Suzy’s strong opposition to that. Therein lies the problem for me. I just don’t buy how, if Jackson truly loves Suzy, he would want another person to live with them, especially a drug addict male who Suzy knows and dislikes. When this takes place, we are not given a valid reason, other than Don is Jackson’s oldest and best friend. Why would Jackson risk alienating Suzy simply to help his old friend who, we learn has a history of relapsing? Why would Suzy give in to having Don live with them so easily? This reeks of playwright manipulation to suit her agenda. This concoction weakens the work.
Add the obnoxious and intrusive behavior from Don as he assorts himself into the couple’s relationship as he strives to make the three into a family. I wondered what Don has on Jackson that would get him to risk Suzy’s wrath? We never learn that. Why is Jackson more loyal to Don than Suzy? If he found he needed to help Don, why not just set Don up in his own apartment? But then Wilson would not have that part of the story that finds Suzy and Don eventually becoming an item as Jackson works long hours climbing the corporate ladder.
Add another playwright manipulation: the broken buzzer that figures into the ending and we become stretched far too thin. You’d think that the building’s management would quickly fix the entrance buzzers?
In its finest moments, Buzzer deals with interracial relationships, white fear of black men on street corners as well as interpersonal trust. We see the struggles of addiction and how that effects the trust of those close to the addict. We also get a glimpse into how gentrification causes class problems as the poor resent the wealth whites and how those folks fear the street folks.
I think Wilson tries to focus on too many themes. The threesome with two whites and a Black man; the fear factor of street travel in a violent neighborhood; and the breach of trust by Suzy and Don toward Jackson are combined too neatly. Better that Wilson limited her play to focus on one motif rather than the three presented. I’d add that the play’s resolution is a bit too far fetched.
While the performances were fine, Shane Kenyon’s work as the struggling addict give an honest glimpse into the conflicts facing addicts. Buzzer is a 21st Century treatment of how urban renewal affects both the new arrivals and the old residents where fear and envy cloud the neighborhood. Buzzer needs a clearer drone.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 18, 2014
For more info checkout the Buzzer page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $10 m- $40, Tuesdays thru Thursdays & Sundays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, matinees on Saturdays & Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through March 9, 2014