Synchronicity Theatre is currently producing the world premiere of “Hands of Color” by first-time playwright Kimberly Monks, directed by Thomas W. Jones II, running through June 30.
It may be Ms. Monks’ first play, but she has been guided and nourished by a series of public readings and workshops during Synchronicity’s SheWrites New Play Festival in 2018. I have discovered that Atlanta’s best professional theatres don’t just produce plays; they have extensive teaching programs, readings, and workshops for actors, playwrights, designers and people vital to the business we call show. Ms. Monks has been the beneficiary of such support; she’s repaid it with a fine play.
Without a doubt the most urgent and prevalent conundrum facing American society today is race. Look at the headlines; look at the most provocative films (such as Netflix’s current “When They See Us”) and television programs. The subject is ubiquitous, and rightly so. It does no good to play the ostrich here; the problems are real and must be addressed.
In “Hands of Color” two friends Thomas (Justin Walker) and Jesse (Emily Kleypas), both Caucasian, are discussing a man, African-American, who seems “out of place” in Thomas’ neighborhood. One thing leads to another; Thomas calls the police and soon Robert, the black man (Enoch King), is killed.
Before that happens, Thomas and Jesse have enough conversation for us to discern that Thomas has anger issues and is racist, in his speech and actions, although he denies it. It’s interesting to observe how racists do not like to self-identify as racist. In a world of name-calling, almost no one likes to be labeled. Yet the n-word slips out of Thomas’ mouth without too much trouble.
Here is where the playwright plays a trick on us. You can call it magical realism if you wish, where a realistic setting is invaded by the fantastical. But somehow Thomas lands in an African-American family and is called upon to play the role of Robert, the father of young Stephanie (Therecia Lang) and the husband of the dynamic Sarah (Wendy Fox Williams).
We’ve all heard the suggestion that we “walk a mile in another’s shoes.” Thomas magically gets that chance, and even though it’s not his choice, he must play the role. You may be thinking, Well that’s just unrealistic; you’re right. But as you probably know, the art form of theatre is dependent on the willing suspension of disbelief.
Nevertheless, the playwright is on thin ice here, and she knows it; but she’s willing to risk almost anything to get the audience’s world turned upside down (as Thomas’ is) and cause us to focus on life with a different lens. In my opinion she succeeds, but she is heavily reliant on a sterling cast, and this she has.
All five actors are superb; they’re not only extremely talented, but they are committed to their roles and to the message of this play: We must love one another or die, as the poet W. H. Auden said. This is the message here.
I also think it’s a wise choice to use wisdom and winsomeness to win an audience over; especially when it would be so easy to dwell in anger and bitterness. But to use a delightful child (as Ms. Lang beautifully plays) is a vastly superior choice. And Ms. Williams, Mr. King, Mr. Walker, and Ms. Kleypas are virtually flawless, directed with panache and subtlety by Mr. Jones.
The play asks the question: Is redemption possible? You must decide for yourself; I choose to side with Anne Frank, who famously said, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.”
Visit synchrotheatre.com for tickets and information.