One teacher is black and the other is white, and everything remains harmonious until one of the women loses her job. Ultimately, prejudices and slight betrayals rise between the women. It is up to the audience to make their own judgement regarding the perceptions of race in contemporary culture.
The show will run until November 21 at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent Street, in Astoria. For more information, head to apacny.org.
I spoke with Cheryl Davis, the playwright, and Pat Golden, the director, about the show’s unique quality, audience reactions and the show’s inception.
So how was opening night?
Davis: I thought it was awesome and wonderfully exciting to see the opening night audience reacting to the actors and the actors feeding off the audience. The actors definitely did a great job.
Golden: They really did do a great job. Everything just came together technically and all of the works that we’ve done in rehearsals, all the moment-to-moment work to develop the characters, it all came together.
What was the initial idea that led to show’s creation?
Davis: It first occurred when I was inspired by something I read about a place that actually existed. It was like a jumping off point and I’d add on what if this happens in the situation, or what if the two women involved were friends, what if they each had children.
A friend of mine became aware of a theater that had space for a week in June some years back, so she got me the space and we held rehearsals when I wasn’t even done writing the show yet. The actors were a little nervous at first.
Actually working with the actors essentially helped me come up with how the piece ended and the dynamic between the two characters. I do feed a lot from the actors. I see how they relate to each other and I hear how words sound coming out of their mouths, and I use that to feed my rewriting process.
What are some of the lessons that you’d like the audience to walk away with?
Golden: That we’re all the same, regardless of the exterior.
Davis: That nothing is ever simple as black and white.
Are you surprised at all by the audience’s reactions to the show or do you expect it?
Davis: The feedback has been generally positive and people have said that it has left them with a lot of questions - in a good way. They say, ‘wow, this is really starting a conversation that is needed to be had.’
Golden: A lot of people have remarked that they liked that Cheryl didn’t give a finalized ending. We don’t have an answer to the questions that have been raised yet. We really get inside of everybody’s head, I think, and it stimulates conversation. But we didn’t try to “whitewash” it in any way.
I see that you’ve both worked on projects like ‘The Color of Justice’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ How is this show different from your previous works?
Golden: These roles are character-twisting roles. I’ve worked on plays before where someone dabbles in a different character. However, I’ve never worked on a play where a white character plays a black character and a black character plays a white character. For that reason alone, it’s highly unusual and very provocative. We’ve also added live video to the mix.
Davis: It’s definitely one of my most provocative works. For me, ‘The Color of Justice’ and a lot of my other works deal with race in one way or another, but ‘Carefully Taught’ deals with it in a distinctively unique angle. Not just in the story that’s being told on stage, but how it’s being told and by the transracial casting.
It makes the audience question their eyes and their own perceptions and stereotypes. We hear one character saying a line and insulting someone else’s race, when they’re that same race, it takes you back and you’re like, what?
When looking at the production photos, if you don’t know the play, you will think of an entirely opposite idea of the interaction between the characters.
The play is so unique that even though the photos are beautiful, it’s almost like they don’t do the play justice. With the live video, we toy around with the idea of media portrayal, so the audience sees what’s happening on stage and how it is reflected on the camera which is pretty interesting.