10/13/2021     HANDS UP                                  Alliance Theatre




How can I know?   How can I judge?  How can I write about a piece that “deep dives” into the Black Experience in America, without “high-fiving” myself for being so damn woke?


My natural Boomer Liberal mindset urges me to empathize with these seven characters, these seven monologues, these seven experiences.


But the truth is, I am an older white American who has never faced the wrong end of a firearm, who has never been “profiled” by those sworn to protect and serve.  I could even say I have never had an intimate Black friend, but the truth is, I don’t make friends easily, and have not really had many (or even any) intimate friends of any ethnicity, devoted spouse notwithstanding


Yes, there are many in the Black Community I respect, many whose company I enjoy, many whose talents regularly astound me, many whose leadership is above reproach.


But I am singularly unqualified to write anything about this production, singularly unqualified to empathize with these characters.  But, after experiencing Hands Up, I sincerely hope to be singularly ready to begin a conversation.


Hands Up is a series of seven short pieces, monologues really, though one is performed with three Actors.  Each purports to bring a well-to-do theatrical audience into close proximity with what being Black in America is like, the fears that become a daily experience, the soul-shredding experiences that give rise to today’s polarizing conversations about race and identity.

“Superiority Fantasy” (written by Nathan James and performed by Marlon Burnley) is about a successful actor/artist, whose pleasant nature and out-on-the-town wardrobe is no shield when being confronted by a profiling mindset. 


“Holes in My Identity” (written by Nathan Yungerberg and performed by Josh Turner) is about a man adopted and raised by white parents, who confesses to the same sorts of dismissive biases enumerated by all these stories.


“Dead of Night ... The Execution of...”” (written by Nambi E. Kelley and performed by Charence Higgins, Jessenia Ingram, and Kala Ross) is about a woman in an abusive relationship with a white man, a man who beats her than has her arrested for “being a crazy bitch.”


“They Shootin! Or I Ain’t Neva Scared...”” (written by Idris Goodwin and performed by Marcus Hopkins-Turner), “Abortion” (written by NSangou Njikam and performed by London Carlisle), and “Walking Next to Michael Brown”  (written by Eric Holmes and performed by Sean M. Dale) are about ... well, I’ll leave it for you to discover.


“How I Feel”  (written by Dennis Allen II and performed by Brandon Burditt), the climactic piece of the evening, asks us all to experience a few minutes of discomfort, asks us all to step into the shows of those being profiled, shot at, abused, or dismissed.  I’ll leave it to you to discover his response to those who question “Why is it ALWAYS about race?” or those who dismiss his fears with an “It’s all in your head” or respond to Black Lives Matter with the cliched “All Lives Matter.”  Needless to say, his short response is entirely appropriate, entirely justified, entirely in line with How He Feels.


It is my belief that the most insidious part of race relations is the unconscious reactions, the knee-jerk dismissals, the biases that hide behind our blinders.


If you think that bringing race into any argument is a “conversation ender,” that is unconscious bias.


If you are more invested in finding the “skeletons in the closet” of the latest police shooting victim, that is unconscious bias.


If you firmly believe this production will only serve to divide audiences into polarized “sides,” that is unconscious bias.


If you think “color-blind” casting absolves you of racism, that is unconscious bias.


If you think 2020’s protests were only covers for looting and rioting, that is unconscious bias.


If you believe the January 6 insurrection was no different from the Portland riots, that is unconscious bias.


But, if you experience these characters, these stories as an excuse to start a conversation, as a reason to examine your own hidden prejudices, then these writers, these actors, this production team will have done more for the future of America than any border wall, any political rally, any television pundit or comedian.  If you even feel a glimmer of empathy for these characters in spite of your own privileged years up to this point, you just may be human, and there just may be a glimmer of hope for our future


And that, in my mind, is worth all the praise in the world.


     -- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #HandsUp   #AllianceTheatre   #HertzStage)


Judgmental Postscript:


Do I wish there had been more from a female perspective?  Of course.


Do I wish the piece had been stage without ignoring audience members on the sides (sight lines from my usher’s seat were awful – the reason for my glossing over some of the stories was because my attention was distracted by backsides between me and the speaker)?  Of course.


Are these concerns relevant to the impact of the piece or the theme of my review?   Of course not.