Racial prejudice in America’s newsrooms takes many forms, according to award-winning African-American playwright Tracey Scott Wilson (The Story). This ripped-from-the-headlines drama, now enjoying its Triangle premiere in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, looks at racism in several of its ugliest varieties — white-on-black, black-on-white, and black-on-black — as well as sexism and class prejudice.
The curtain rises as idealistic white teachers Tim and Jessica Dunn (Scott Nagel and Izzy Burger) nervously navigate the mean streets of the inner-city section where they teach, looking for the neighborhood restaurant where they are to meet his wealthy parents. It is night, they are lost, and the shadows are ominous. A shot rings out, and Tim crumples and dies.
The search for the unseen, presumably African-American assailant obsesses the police and consumes two black reporters, wily veteran Neil Petterson (George Hill) and ambitious newcomer Yvonne Robinson (Chaunesti N. Lyon) and their African-American editor, Pat Johnson (Jackie Marriott). When Yvonne interviews Latisha (Stacie Alston), a teenage gangbanger from a well-to-do background, and Latisha claims to be a member of the girl gang AOB (Any Other Brother) that shot Tim Dunn, Yvonne has the scoop that will propel her from the Outlook (lifestyle) section to the Metro desk, where she can be a real journalist, reporting hard news. Neil, who is making surprising headway in unearthing Mrs. Dunn’s possible financial motives for murdering her husband, has a hissy fit.
Instead of following up on his promising leads on Jessica Dunn, Petterson starts to investigate Yvonne Robinson; and he finds discrepancies in her resume that bring to mind discrepancies in the stories of Janet Cooke of The Washington Post and other dissembling black reporters of more recent vintage. Could it be that Yvonne’s career-making story, “Confessions of a Girl Gang Member,” is all smoke and mirrors, too?
Chaunesti Lyon is a veritable tiger — beautiful, but dangerous when cornered — as Yvonne Robinson; and George Hill and especially Jackie Marriott provide perfect foils as African-American co-workers suspicious of Yvonne’s background and journalistic methods. All three devour their meaty roles with gusto.
Scott Nagel is good in the dual roles of Tim Dunn, who dies in the opening scene, and Yvonne’s white boyfriend and potential boss Jeff Morgan, an editor on the Metro section who comes from an extremely well-to-do family. Stacie Alston is remarkable as Latisha, a wild child of the hip-hop generation who, despite her family’s wealth and her prep-school education, claims that she is a member of a murderous street gang. But Izzy Burger, perhaps because of the small size of her role, makes less of an impression as Jessica Dunn, the grieving and very pregnant widow.
Lauren Reese, Starr Kilgore, and Donnis Collins (temporarily substituting for Courtney Hooks) form a chorus. They add crisp cameos as various police officers, reporters, and outraged citizens interviewed on the streets about the police crackdown on the minority community in the aftermath of the Dunn murder.
Director Linda O’Day Young does a superb job of sustaining the play’s dramatic tension. Scenic and lighting designer Rick Young creates an exceptional arena for the play’s convoluted and sometimes overlapping events, and costume designer Susan Worthington-White dresses the cast superlatively, in colorful outfits that reveal much about their own personal style.
This RLT production of The Story is one of the biggest surprise hits of the 2005 theater season to date. Dramatist Tracey Scott Wilson is absolutely fearless in her exploration about how racial, sexual, and class prejudices can handicap the search for a killer in a murder investigation and blind those who have them from ever seeing the real truth about themselves or each other. Don’t miss it.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Story Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 15-17, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m., and Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 22-24 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 25, at 3 p.m., in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15, except $10 Sept. 11th Sunday matinee and $12 for students and seniors Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. 919/821-3111. Note: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for persons with hearing impairments. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/story.htm [inactive 4/06].
Raleigh Little Theatre will present the Triangle premiere of The Story, a ripped-from-the-headlines drama by award-winning African-American playwright Tracey Scott Wilson, Sept. 9-25 in its Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. The play’s central character — inspired by the real-life example of ultra-ambitious black Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke, who not only not only fabricated her resume, but also made up sources for her story “Jimmy’s World,” which her editor nominated for the Pulitzer Prize — is ambitious young African-American reporter Yvonne Robinson (played by Chaunesti Lyon), whose credentials are called into question while she is investigating a white man’s murder in the wrong part of town. This unflinching look at race and class prejudice, journalistic ethics or lack thereof, all-consuming personal ambition, and truth won the 2004 Kisselring Prize for Playwriting.
“I first read The Story last year when the staff was reading plays for the upcoming season,” says director Linda O’Day Young. “I admire the play’s honesty and boldness to confront issues head on.”
She adds, “The Story is an intense play about all that human stuff that gets in the way of finding the truth. The Story is about ambition, perception, greed. It’s about race and class and social politics. It’s about us and where we are in America.
“The plot revolves around a very ambitious African-American rookie reporter, Yvonne Robinson, who is hired to work for the Outlook section of The Daily newspaper. The Outlook section is devoted to reporting positive things about the community. Yvonne’s credentials are impressive, Harvard, The Sorbonne. She speaks several languages, and it is obvious from the beginning that she does not plan to be at Outlook long, but rather is determined to move on to the Metro section and on to the National desk,” Young explains.
“Prior to Yvonne’s arrival at the paper,” Young says, “there is a high-profile murder of a white teacher (Scott Nagel), who is shot while driving with his wife (Izzy Burger) in a low-income neighborhood. Yvonne’s arrival at The Daily ignites conflicts as she deals with her white and wealthy lover, Jeff Morgan (also played by Scott Nagel), who is the editor of the Metro section and who wants to keep their relationship a secret, and as she tries to work with co-worker, Neil Patterson (George Hill), who is antagonistic from the start. But the greatest conflict is with her boss, Pat Johnson (Jackie Marriott), the African-American editor of the Outlook section.”
Young says, “Yvonne and Pat have very different views. Pat is extremely dedicated to her race and to the Outlook section, which she single-handedly got going in response to what she felt were the newspapers racist betrayals of minorities. Pat believes firmly that what she does reflects upon her race. She believes firmly in the power of words to change things.
“Yvonne, however, doesn’t want anything to do with her race,” Young reports, “and [she] thinks that Outlook section is useless fluff. Yvonne is just about to quit when she stumbles across the story which could make her career. She meets a young black girl (Stacie Alston), who confesses to being a member of a gang responsible for the murder of the teacher, Tim Dunn.”
Young says, “What ensues is a race to get the story and put the right spin on it. Other members of the cast are Starr Kilgore as Reporter/Ensemble, Lauren Reese as the Detective/Ensemble, and Courtney Hooks as the Assistant/Ensemble. Due a death in the family of Courtney Hooks, the part of Assistant/Ensemble will be played by Donnis Collins until further notice.”
In addition to director Linda Young, who is RLT’s youth theater and education director, the show’s production team includes set and lighting designer Richard Young, costume designer Susan Worthington White, sound designer Rick LaBach, and stage manager David Wilk.
Young says, “Rick Young’s set is stark, cold, corporate, black and white, forceful yet open with many angles. The lighting is a vital member of the cast, moving the plot along. It is used to clarify and emphasize how the playwright plays with time.
“The color and style of Costumes reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the characters,” says Linda Young.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Story Saturday, Sept. 10, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 11, at 3 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 15-17, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m., and Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 22-24 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 25, at 3 p.m., in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15, except $10 Sept. 11th Sunday matinee and $12 for students and seniors Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. 919/821-3111. Note: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for persons with hearing impairments. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/story.htm [inactive 4/06].