Two Minutes' Traffic: Underground Railroad Game, Woolly Mammoth

The Ars Nova production of Underground Railroad Game, currently staged at Woolly Mammoth, never lets the audience catch their breath, forcing us to look in the mirror of our country and grapple with what we see there. One short, flirtatious conversation between Kidwell and Sheppard's teachers Caroline and Stuart is heartstopping in its escalating tension.  In the space of perhaps two minutes, we watch Stuart, our token white man, let slip a few all-too-common microaggressions towards a black woman. In the space of a few moments, however, implications mount into outright racist caricature even as Kidwell counters with jokes at the expense of white people.  The audience is equal parts appalled at Stuart, laughing at Kidwell's jokes, and made absolutely aware of the power imbalance between a white man and a black woman in our society; I'd love to take that scene and show it to every person who tries to say that reverse racism is a thing, because it really, really isn't.

Scott R. Sheppard and Jennifer Kidwell in Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's
“Underground Railroad Game.” (Scott Suchman)

Underground Railroad Game is a play that tells its audience, Whether or not you assumed you agreed with our point of view before you walked into the theatre, there is more we need to talk about. There are layers upon layers of racism that we need to sort through, acknowledge, and sit with in America. We must face it head on before we can do anything about it, and we live in a country and in a time that functions on the assumption that we already understand all we need to. Kidwell and Sheppard's play isn't so much a call for change as it is a demand that we open our eyes, to sit in a theatre for 75 minutes and let ourselves be uncomfortable and honest with each other. That the play can do so with humor, inventiveness, vulnerability, and still shock us with what theatre can do is an absolute triumph.


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