Square One Theatre Company, Stratford: Bruce Graham’s hard-hitting honesty in “White Guy on the Bus” is like throwing cold water on a hot frying pan. Watch out for the splatter. You’re bound to get burned. Yet, the cold truth Graham reveals about racism is something that we are continually trying to deal with, but are we all holding on to the same high moral code? Can white people ever really get what black people have to go through in life? Do black people really get what white people have to go through? Director Tom Holehan, who is a consistent blockbusting director when it comes to producing hits, has once again cast superior actors who usher in characters we know only too well.
Take Bruce Murray’s realistically charged and all-around good guy character Ray, for instance. He’s a nice white guy, a loving and devoted husband, a successful “numbers man” who lives in a gorgeous house in the suburbs. Audiences have no idea what really compels this man who owns a Mercedes to take the city bus and befriend a specific young black woman named Shatique; there must be method to his madness for sure. Bruce Murray doesn’t give away his hand as he takes you along his ride from ghetto to Ray’s daily activities and neither shall I. However, you don’t want to miss this.
Janet Rather delivers such a convincing character as Roz, that one wonders if the actress really was a “white witch” teacher in a ghetto. She is a do-gooder who wants desperately to help the kids in the inner city and is so good at her job that she was selected as a national candidate for teacher of the year. Roz sees racism in so many different ways. And she doesn’t just see it as black and white. She sees it with the kids from across the border and certainly with the Asian students. She is also violently attacked and murdered.
Erma Elliott plays Shatique, a black single mother working towards her nursing degree. Elliott creates a most likeable and charming young woman who is determined to do the right thing for her young son and so she move out of the ghetto and away from the crime, gangs and drugs. She doesn’t understand why Ray rides the bus with her. He tells her he likes public transportation.
That Emily Diedrich as Molly and Ian Diedrich as Christopher play husband and wife in this Stratford theater was quite a surprise for me. Middlebury residents, they are married in real life and are quite well known in many theaters throughout western Connecticut. That Tom Holehan managed to get them both in this show is quite a stroke of genius all the way around. The Diedrichs are multi-talented and they shine brighter than ever on stage together. Emily plays Molly who loves life in the city until she becomes pregnant and wants to escape the smells and put her child into a decent school. Molly is the modern day mom and Emily, who has a little one of her own, snuggles up to her husband easily onstage and deploys her joy-filled youthful motherly experience as the pro she is.
Ian Diedrich plays Christopher, Molly’s husband onstage. He is a teacher who wants his doctorate degree. However, his thesis regarding the use of black actors in television commercials is considered racist and his Ph.D. pursuits are dashed. Ian is an outstanding actor who is always in demand. The audience watches him move from easy going and scholarly to angry and resentful.
This play is packed with surprise so don’t think for a minute that you know what’s going to happen next. Just take your seat on director Tom Holehan’s stage and enjoy a simply great ride with all the bumps along the way. The house was packed this weekend and the show runs until March 18. Call the box office asap: 203-375-8778.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected].