Dutch Masters


Review by Willard Manus

Clearly an homage to Leroi Jones’s “Dutchman,” Greg Keller’s DUTCH MASTERS also takes place in a New York subway car and deals with the racial differences between a white/black couple. But where Jones tapped into the sexual sub-text of that first meeting, with a white girl needling, provoking and finally stabbing the black guy, Keller takes his story in a different direction, one that is more contrived and artificial.

In Rogue Machine’s West Coast production of the play, we are asked to believe that a small, nerdy white kid, Steve (Josh Zuckerman), would not only fall into an edgy, prolonged conversation with a big, slovenly-dressed, foul-mouthed black youth named Eric (Corey Dorris), but agree to get off the train with him in the middle of Harlem and go to his apartment, just to smoke a little grass.
Sorry, there isn’t a white kid in New York who would do such a thing (unless, perhaps, sex were involved).

What followed, though, did manage to keep me in my seat. The revelation that Eric’s Jamaica-born mother Gloria worked for many years as a maid for Steve’s parents was believable and, eventually, provocative. The racial and class dynamics of that relationship were exposed in the confrontation between Steve and Eric, with the latter still boiling with rage over the way his mother was treated. “After twenty years of cleaning for you, nobody in the family went to see her in the hospital when she lay dying with cancer!” Eric shouts. “Not only that, you to this day don’t even know her last name!”
The truth of these stinging remarks is what gives DUTCH MASTERS its relevance and power–and made me realize it would have worked better as a one-act, without the accidental meeting in the subway train. In other words, what was needed was less Leroi Jones, more Greg Keller.

That said, there are other things to commend about DUTCH MASTERS, beginning with the skillful, charismatic performances of the two young actors, both of whom light up the stage. Guillermo Cienfuegos deserves plaudits as well for his tight, hard-driving direction. Ditto David Mauer for his clever, highly effective set design.

Rogue Machine (in The Met Theatre), 1089 N. Oxford St. Call 855-585-5l85 or visit roguemachinetheatre.com