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Hooded or Being Black For Dummies

As the list of atrocities committed by the police and whites against blacks continues to pile up, and the incarceration of African-Americans that accelerated after Bill Clinton's crime bill in the '90's continues to expand—in response to private for-profit prison demands on the state and the racism of the white power structure—there is a growing awareness and resistance to such behaviors and the system that engenders it.

(Left to right) John Hauser as Hunter, AJ Voliton as Marquis, and Drew Hirschboeck as Fielder
(L to R) John Hauser as Hunter, AJ Voliton as Marquis, and Drew Hirschboeck as Fielder
Photo: Gail Marie Bransteitter
 
Part of overcoming the inertia of prejudice—built over millennia and fed by a power structure that uses it to divide and distract its subjects—is to walk the proverbial mile in another person's shoes. In the regional premiere of Hooded or Being Black For Dummies, playwright Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm cleverly does just that for black and white audiences, when a young black male, Marquis (AJ Volitan), adopted and raised in a white family, meets Tru (Randy Chalmers), a bro from the hood, who schools him on being black, while Hunter (John Hauser), a privileged young white male, gets a hold of Tru's manual (which was meant for Marquis) and works on being black. In other words, there are two neophytes here, one white, one black, learning what it means to be black in America, and both their journeys end in violence. An additional scene in Hunter's descent into depression from his realizations, which come to him while studying Tru's manual, would make this even more effective.

(Left to right) AJ Voliton as Marquis and Laurence Anthony Curry as Officer Borzoi
(L to R) AJ Voliton as Marquis
and Laurence Anthony Curry as Officer Borzoi
Photo: Gail Marie Bransteitter
Chisholm draws us in with a healthy serving of satire and sarcasm, but make no mistake, this is not a dark comedy—this is a tragedy, as we see in the climax, denouement, and video epilogue. There is no hyperbole here. What we see comes down every day across America. We begin with Marquis' "Trayvonning"—that is, he lies on the ground like Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American teenager from Miami Gardens, Florida, who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, on February 26, 2012—and we end with a long list of such murders by white racists, both civilian and those with badges.

(Left to right) Randy Chalmers as Tru and AJ Voliton as Marquis
(L to R) Randy Chalmers as Tru
and AJ Voliton as Marquis
Photo: Gail Marie Bransteitter
 
At first, Marquis is in denial of his internal "whiteness." Even as he is tutored by Tru, he does not see how his schoolmates and their parents are setting him up as a bad influence and perpetrator. Finally, the trap is sprung, and Chisholm lays bare America's cultural and structural racism via Marquis' story.

Adeline Mann as Clementine and AJ Voliton as Marquis
Adeline Mann as Clementine and AJ Voliton as Marquis
Photo: Gail Marie Bransteitter
The up-tempo dynamic between Volitan (Marquis), as the straight man, and Chalmers (Tru), with the punchlines, sets the pace for director Betty Hart's power-packed production. Lawrence Curry, as Officer Borzoi, deftly dishes a persistent yet understated malevolence. Jacqueline Garcia, as Debra, Marquis' mom, leverages the earnestness of a slick attorney driven by misplaced assumptions of #whiteprivilege and a surfeit of liberal guilt to draw regular volleys of laughter. Drew Herschboeck (Fielder), Tara Kelso (Meadow), and Adeline Mann (Clementine), as Marquis' prep school friends, are a marvel as awkward teens. John Hauser (Hunter) paints a funny transformation of a white kid trying to be black.

The Aurora Fox Art Center's presentation of Hooded or Being Black For Dummies runs through February 10th. For tickets: www.AuroraFox.org.

Bob Bows



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