Young playwright hits a milestone at Barrington Stage Company
PITTSFIELD — A world premiere is a significant milestone for any theatrical work. But such a production which is also a young playwright's first at a significant regional venue, that's a cause for some excitement, too.
And so it is for Rachel Lynett, author of "Well Intentioned White People," which, after a series of previews that began Thursday, is opening Wednesday at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage, where it is scheduled to run through Sept. 8.
"This is very exciting for me personally, and for the cast, to be recognized with a world premiere at the theater with Barrington Stage's reputation," Lynett said. "What's even more special though is what we can share with our audience. This is a story that's an important one to tell right now, today."
In the play, Lynett said she pitted "recognizable characters in a situation where intentions were good, but understanding needed improvement."
"I got the idea on the night of the last presidential elections while engaged in discussions on social media," Lynett said. "One person I was chatting with thought they had a good grasp on an issue concerning African-Americans, and then was surprised when I took another view to find out that I was black. I think it was eye-opening for both of us."
Along those lines, Lynett's play follows Cass, an aspiring academic, who experiences a racial incident she would rather forget. Cass is forced into "making an example of it" by her well intentioned roommate, Viv (played by Victoria Frings), and the dean of her "hip" and liberal university.
Since Cass' professional goal is to achieve tenure, she really doesn't want to upset any campus apple carts. Eventually, though, Cass is forced by her community to lead a diversity day on her own behalf and is asked to be the face of her race.
How Cass navigates the dilemma is a poignant and funny look at race, friendship and how, in the pursuit of real change, "well intentions" are not always enough.
"Sometimes people mean well, but they are really sticking to ideas they have been taught in the past, rather than truly communicating with those they are trying to help," Lynett said.
Myxolydia Tyler, who plays Cass, agreed with the playwright, saying that Cass is someone who "takes pride in her work and is at a very important time in her career after having worked really hard to get where she is.
"Her usual way of dealing with adversity is to side step it," Tyler said. "She's very self-aware and doesn't want any attention called to her in the aftermath of this hate crime. Other people are reacting to it though, so her usual way of dealing with things doesn't work well."
Tyler went on to say that Cass faces hard decisions "to ask herself who she really wants to be while trying to succeed in this system that she has worked so hard to be a part of," and that this dynamic spills over to everyone with whom she interacts.
"My favorite thing about this story is that every character in it is forced to look at themselves very closely and be honest about what they see," Tyler said. "They get an opportunity to rethink and reassess and that's a good thing because sometimes the things we say and do, even when we mean well, are not that great."
Along with Tyler and Frings, the cast includes Samy El Noury, Andrea Cirie and Cathryn Wake.
An added element to the story, according to director Tiffany Nichole Greene, is that playwright Lynett is good at "having visceral takes on human interactions," and has offered up a play with "a lot of meat on the bones."
"I'm very interested in plays that examine fear, and how fear sometimes leads us down the path of regret," Greene said. "It can be the motivation for negative behavior, for decisions that we might look back on with remorse. I'm really intrigued by how the story is asking everyone in the audience to take a look at themselves."
Greene added that while, she, like Lynett, had been involved with new works, the prospect of directing a world premiere at Barrington Stage was an exciting first, and she hoped that passion translated to her wishes for the audience.
"This play is written by a black woman who is speaking not to the racism of the past, but to issues that are right now," Greene said. "I'd love for people to walk away from this with a new voice in their head. Maybe questioning behavior that they entered the theater feeling really great about but then thinking, `I know I really did good, but was that the most effective way, the most kind way to go about it?' To work at understanding so they do no harm when trying to help others."
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