Spinning Into Butter

Racism is not a problem peculiar to America alone, but it is a central theme in its history. The births of the colonies themselves were literally simultaneous with plantation slavery, and following the Civil War, in which more Americans died than in all its other wars combined, racism was legalized and rarely challenged until after World War II. But even the integration of the armed forces, schools, restaurants, political parties, and the rest hasn't erased the mistrust and legal barriers between the country's ethnic groups.

Jamie Horton and Annette Helde
Jamie Horton and Annette Helde
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
One could endlessly debate whether the notion of race is even valid, given the genetic similarities across the world's human population, but valid or not it's one of society's core problems. While conservatives in this country have, generally, supported racist laws and resisted their rescission, all the while opposing the implementation of equal rights measures, liberals have presented themselves as supporters of equality and brotherhood. But do we really know where liberals stand on this issue?

As Bob Dylan said in "I Shall Be Free No. 10" from his first album, Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964, "Now, I'm liberal, but to a degree / I want ev'rybody to be free " Into this morass of conscience and guilt enters the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of playwright Rebecca Gilman's latest hit, Spinning Into Butter, based on an event that happened during her undergraduate years, involving racist notes left for a black student at a predominantly white college in New England.

Gilman's gift for efficient dialogue keeps the dramatic focus sharp throughout the entire piece, even on the rare occasions when she over-extends the plausibility of her argument, such as the inability of Sarah Daniels, Dean of Students, at Belmont College, Vermont, to explain the derivation and convention of standard ethnic descriptions used to award scholarships to minorities. Continuing her dazzling string of performances is Annette Helde as Sarah. As compassionate as she is self-critical, as equivocating as she is determined, Helde's Sarah achieves heroic status despite the failure the so-called liberal administrators attempt to pin on her.

Sarah's on-again off-again lover, Ross Collins, Professor of Art History, is a marvelous portrait of sensitivity and paternalism—the perfect liberal male—as drawn by Jamie Horton. Kathleen M. Brady is icily effective as the haughty Catherine Kenney, Academic Dean, who, teamed with Greg Thornton's chillingly arrogant Burton Strauss, Dean of Humanities, send shivers of disgust up our spines. Only Mr. Meyers, Mark Rubald's sympathetic and wizened working class campus security officer, offers Sarah any real support. John Sloan and Rodney Lizcano, as Sarah's have and have-not student representatives, fit the archetypes to a T.

Denver Center Artistic Director Donovan Marley's return to directing, after a long hiatus, produces a consistent vision indicative of a less authoritarian and more collaborative nature. The simple two-part set and deft blocking lay bare the playwright's intent, and the ensemble couldn't be more symbiotic.

As we move from Martin Luther King's birthday into Black History Month, Spinning Into Butter provides a transformational experience for us to examine our commitment to evolving—taking up the practice required to move beyond any instinctive fear-based motive, whether it be racism or greed, beyond the politics of conservatism or liberalism, and into the realm of spirit.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's regional premier of Rebecca Gilman's Spinning Into Butter runs through March 2nd in The Ricketson Theatre at the Denver Center. 303-893-4100.


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