Square One Theatre mounts ‘White Guy on the Bus’ in Stratford
Bruce Graham knows what it’s like to be the only “white guy on the bus” — the only middle-age white guy among young black men and women on their way to visit friends and relatives incarcerated at Rikers Island prison in New York City.
In a recent chat, the noted Philadelphia playwright said he used that experience to create what is being called by critics as “a play with guts” — a morality tale combined with social commentary, as well as a “well-crafted” mystery.
Through March 18, Graham’s play, “White Guy on the Bus,” is playing at the Square One Theatre Company’s venue at Stratford Academy. In an email chat, artistic director Tom Holehan said he chose to produce the play for several reasons, including the author’s track record.
“Square One has always relied on the off-Broadway scene for diverse and small-scale theater selections that challenge, educate and entertain. We found Bruce Graham’s ‘The Outgoing Tide’ there and produced it two seasons ago to great success.
“His ‘White Guy on the Bus’ was in a celebrated production last season off-Broadway and, after reading it, my first response was that it scared me ... and I think that’s a good thing. We don’t want to always rely on the tried and true at Square One and (his play) is as timely as a twitter feed from the White House.
“It will be ... a challenge for audiences to watch, but no one will leave the theater without an opinion. If race is a conversation that needs to be had in this country, WGOTB is a prime conversation starter and Mr. Graham is a relevant voice on the topic,” Holehan said.
Holehan also announced that Square One is partnering with Stratford Citizens Addressing Racial Equity, known as CARE, whose members will facilitate talk backs with the actors and audience following matinees on Saturdays, March 10 and 17.
The theater describes the plot thus: “On a city bus, Shatique, a struggling African-American nurse and single mom, meets Ray, a 50-something white man, who makes a point of always sitting next to her and inquiring about her family and her hopes for the future. After learning that he has a Mercedes, she wonders (just as the audience does) why he even rides ‘this damn bus’ so often.
“The answer is part of what makes Graham’s complex and even brilliant play so very intriguing. Things take an unexpected sinister turn when he shows up on her tenement doorstep with a dangerous proposal. When key plot points (one has to see it to believe it) are revealed, every cynical retort, frustration-fueled rant and defensive comeback relates to the story’s twists and turns.”
Graham said the idea for the drama came a few years ago, after reading a news story about transportation outfits offering needed (and cheap) regular-but-often-unlicensed van and bus service to prisons across state lines or to out-of-the-way locations. Curious about the concept and eager to see how it worked, he decided to use the service from Philadelphia to Rikers Island in Manhattan and back. That’s where the similarities end because the “white guy” in his drama has a heart set on revenge.
Graham, who also is a professional actor and university lecturer, began his career as a playwright at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays in 1984 with “Burkie,” and subsequently became the playwright-in-residence at PFT, where he later served for two years as its artistic director.
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