When I was writing this initially, I was writing a Black character talking about Black racial trauma in America. I did not know if it was my story to tell, but I felt that real discussion could happen from it. Then George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, and a lot of discussion started up, and it just felt as though this was not a time for people to encounter that discussion written by me. Along with a lot of other discussions happening in the American theater about who’s being given the bandwidth to tell these stories, it just felt like this play was going to cause pain rather than be a productive discussion. I thought I would withdraw the play, and Saheem Ali really felt like we had this play without Mark. And yes, you do. It’s not the same play; it’s a different play.
Those conversations about race still happen, but the perspective changes from a Black one to a white one. I’m wondering whether there’s actually some sort of opportunity there, artistically and even sort of politically, in depicting white liberals struggle to talk about it.
I sat down with a bunch of different people, and I was told that when you had Mark in the play, everyone in the audience, including all of the white liberals, knew who their allegiance was with. You’ve got your guiding star. When you remove that person, you are more sitting in this house with this group of largely white liberals, and if you are a white liberal yourself, that’s a more complicated place to be.
Plays are powered by artifice, and I think there is an artifice in the degree of discussion that happens in the house, since my experience of white liberals is that generally we don’t talk about race, or we do, but really carefully in a prescribed way. And if there’s any divergence with that: freakout, emotional maelstrom, end of all discussion. I do think that when it comes to talking about race, white liberals have essentially the vocabulary of 3- or 4-year-olds. Or we did at the beginning of the pandemic. Now we’re kind of like semi-bright fifth or sixth graders.
What is the afterlife of this play when Trump is no longer in office?
If Trump is not president in January, I think we won’t want to think about him again for a long time.
Like a de-Trumpification?
I’m all for it. I wish nothing more for this play than to be irrelevant.