Directed by Jonathan Wilson
Produced by Greentree Productions
At Stage 773
Powerful look at intraracial prejudice is enlightening
Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman is a two-hander that is set in the Gullah/Geechee culture of South Carolina from the 1960’s to the present. We meet through a series of counterpoint monologues, Alma (Deanna K. Reed) – a large-sized dark-skinned Africian-American women thought to be ugly mainly due to dark skin by the Gullah community and her counter-point – Eugene (J. Isreal Greene) a “high-yellow” (light-skinned) Africian-American man who is perceived as higher and more beautiful due to his light skin tone in the Gullah culture.
From Alma’s opening monologue, we hear about how the large dark-skinned woman are worked hard and treated like animals by their men. These self-despising women drink and yearn for love from their men who practice loveless sex. Their men constantly search for light-skinned women to love.
Eugene tries to explain how his light skin is both a blessing and a curse. His father, a dark-skinned man deeply resents his son’s yellowness yet his mother’s light-skin envelops his father. We see in this most isolated community that both dark skin and yellow skin can be causes of disgust and prejudice.
However, during grade school, Eugene and Alma become close friends as both enjoy the innocence and non-judgmental attitude of children. As they reach their teen years, their friendship blossoms into a boy-girl courtship that is hammered by both family’s skin color bigotry. The two lovers forge a strong bond that seems to hold even as Alma decides to go to college in New York City to “make something of herself.”
Eugene is trapped into the family business in South Carolina yet during his monthly visits to NYC, his love for Alma and his sense of independence grows. The two seem destined to elevate themselves out of the prejudice of the provincial Gullah community. Alma feels the rhythms of the city and her swagger catapults her self-esteem and personal confidence. Eugene is starting to feel her positive energy until he gets word of the death of his yellow-skinned grandfather.
His return to South Carolina for the funeral leads to an ugly confrontation fueled by whiskey with his jealous father. The consequences could dash both Alma and Eugene’s hopes for the future.
The show is marked by two tour de force performances by J. Israel Green and Deanna K. Reed who both play multi characters with rich accents, body language and differing emotional makeup. Alma’s mother and Eugene’s father are deftly presented by Reed and Greene. Yellowman is a work that uses expert storytelling narrative with finely played dramatic interaction. The sheer honesty of both performances totally engages us as we struggle with hoping that they’ll overcome the restrictive rules that hamper their dreams.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 15, 2011
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.stage773.com, tickets $15 – $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through October 9, 2011