In “Dutch Masters,” a new play written by Greg Keller and directed by Andre Holland, a young black man meets a young white man on the subway, with unexpected results. In “Dutchman,” the 1964 play by LeRoi Jones (soon to change his name to Amiri Baraka), a young black man meets a white woman on the subway, with unexpected results.
In the old play, the black man is surprised that the white woman seems to know so much about him. In the new play, the white man, Steve (Jake Horowitz) is surprised that the black man, Eric (Ian Duff) seems to know so much about him. We learn why after Steve leaves the train with Eric and goes to his apartment, a little more than halfway through the hour-long play. I won’t spoil the twist, but this is the moment at which “Dutch Masters” becomes more engaging and more pointed.
“Dutchman” winds up a surreal and merciless indictment of White America. “Dutch Masters” is more realistic, and less harsh, but it too requires a suspension of disbelief, and it too comments on race relations in America. It also adds an observation about class that feels exactly right – showing how race and class can sometimes be synonymous.
Both the playwright and the director are well-known actors, and they help guide the two talented young cast members into giving performances that manage to keep us tense and in suspense — what is Eric up to? As good as Horowitz’s performance is, it is still difficult to imagine that Steve, a bookish white kid from Riverdale, would get off the train with a black stranger at 145th Street to buy some marijuana to smoke in a park, and then go to the black kid’s apartment. The playwright for some reason short circuits the most persuasive possible motivation — that there is something potentially sexual going on — with some dialogue establishing their heterosexual bonafides. We’re left with the relatively thin reed that Steve, enamored of hip hop culture, wants to be seen as cool…. “Dutch Masters” is better at exploring what divides the two than what draws them together. The title might be an homage to Baraka’s play, but it is more obviously a reference to the Dutch Masters cigar that Eric uses to wrap the marijuana. Eric assumes the name refers to Dutch slave masters. Steve politely points out it’s probably a reference to Dutch masters of painting. But, as the Dutch painters knew, your perspective creates your reality. Eric knows that it’s the Dutch who first brought African slaves to New York, in 1626,and that there’s been a racial divide ever since.
Partial Comfort Productions at The Wild Project
Written by Greg Keller
Directed by Andre Holland
Cast: Ian Duff and Jake
Set by Jason Simms, costumes by Ntokozo Kunene, lighting by
Xavier Pierce, sound by Daniel Kluger, casting by Judy Bowman and
stage management by Ingrid Pierson and Arielle Goldstein.
Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $25. Students/seniors: $15
Dutch Masters is scheduled to play through April 21, 2018