This article contains spoilers for the School of Drama's production of Dutchman.
Dutchman joins this year’s exclusive club of “what on earth did I just watch?” The play is centered around two characters, Lula and Clay, who interact mostly on a subway for the entirety of the play. Dutchman is one of those productions that is hard to talk about without spoiling because the story is one long conversation split up by a bizarre dance/party sequence in the middle.
There are three kinds of people who watch plays: those who don’t get it at all, those who know everything and make fun of the play for being predictable, and those who are with the play the whole time and are intrigued, even if they don’t fully understand it. Dutchman is one of those plays where it’s hard for the audience to fall into the first two categories.
It wasn’t until the end that it made sense, that the play is a metaphor for interracial relations and black identity in the United States. Clay is a representative of the mild-mannered black man, while Lula represents the pressure from white society, trying in various ways to goad Clay into an intense reaction, such as pretending to understand black culture, calling Clay several racial slurs, or telling Clay to stop being complacent by trying to fit into white culture. Clay snaps and goes into a thoughtful monologue on how African American culture silently represses generations of rage, and if African Americans were to act rationally they would just kill all whites to end their oppression. He no longer knows whether it’s the silent rage or the repression of that rage that takes a greater toll on black identity. It’s a bold statement, one that was written decades ago during the Civil Rights era and holds just as much significance today. It’s a testament to the writing that this message was conveyed in a compelling manner without feeling like it was preaching to a choir.
Dutchman is another excellent production from the School of Drama. Their selection this year seems to encompass a great variety of socially conscious, thematically relevant, and unique plays. I’m excited to see what other intriguing productions the School of Drama has in store for the rest of the year.