To the editors:
With all due respect of the right of theater critics to disagree with, dislike, or dismember a show, I must take issue with Jack Helbig’s review of Chameleon Productions’ Wrestlers (May 31). We’re not writing because the review was unfavorable, rather, the tone of his comments.
First of all, Helbig indicates that the playwrights barely relate the ethnicity of the play’s characters, and infers that African American artists (and I can only assume all artists of color) should only produce work that powerfully communicates our unique attitudes, fears and opinions. His presumption in telling us what African American theater needs to be–issue-oriented, down-trodden and of the “we’ve been done wrong” genre–is limiting, insulting and patronizing. Wrestlers was written by “single, urban, upwardly aspiring African American women.” Is Mr. Helbig better suited to relay that experience than the playwrights?
Furthermore, his comment that the actors “so perfectly capture the body language and distinctive speaking styles of the African American middle class that the play’s mostly African American audience roared with laughter at everything the two said and did” is equally insulting, at best. With small exception, many Wrestlers audiences have been 60 percent white and predominantly male, and most have responded to the play in a similar fashion. Yet Mr. Helbig makes a point of divisively singling out the African American audience. His remarks imply a separatist perception that we simply will not condone.
Secondly, the fact that women of color are playing major roles in a physical-style comedy, that they are candidly, openly and lightheartedly talking about sex, and that audiences, no matter what color, gender or sexual orientation, have identified with these women, more than justifies and advances Chameleon’s mission.
While maintaining the integrity of cultural diversity, Chameleon seeks to demonstrate that all people, regardless of gender, race or culture, share the common denominator of humanity. It was exactly our intent that the play “could as easily have been about white women in Minneapolis or Japanese women in Tokyo.” After all, people of color do have the same wishes, desires and similar struggles as everyone else. But the bottom line is, this production is by and about black women.
Finally, if Helbig read his press release closely, he would’ve known that Wrestlers was billed as a light comedy, not a “two-act drama.” Perhaps then the roaring audience would not have left him so stupefied.
Lisa M. Duncan
Jack Helbig replies:
If Ms. Duncan would reread my review, she would see that I never brought up the topic of African American theater, much less stated the idiotic opinion that “African American theater needs to be issue-oriented, down-trodden and of the ‘we’ve been done wrong’ genre.” In fact, when I wrote my review, I didn’t even know Chameleon Productions, which describes itself in its press materials as a “culturally diverse women’s theatre,” considered itself to be an African American theater company.