The Whitmores Final Drafts

One Comment on “The Whitmores Final Drafts

  1. “The Whitmores”, a new play written by Ben Ducoff and directed by Michael Hammond, is loaded with bold artistic choices. The show takes a satirical look at racial and class issues, particularly the contrast between poverty-stricken city neighborhoods and the rich, fenced-off suburban areas. Its tone shifts from cartoonish levity to deadly seriousness, and sometimes it juggles both. Often, these choices work well, but unfortunately they also often don’t. The play is a flawed piece of work, albeit one that it’s easy to find a great deal of potential in.

    Tom and Mary Whitmore, an upper-class couple, are in the midst of a gated-community crisis. Fed up with their overbearing neighborhood organizers, they plan to kill Sue McGovern, the community’s leader, and her husband. To have the killings done they hire Dale, a former hit-man trying to make a better life for his wife and their upcoming child, and what results is a catastrophic dinner party in which the characters’ ideologies and personalities collide and explode.

    The play is extremely funny, which works well as a counterpoint to the more dark and brutal moments. Leah McLoughlin as Mary Whitmore is especially hilarious. She gives her character bizarre vocal and physical quirks that, strangely, only make it seem more believable that a person like this could exist in real life. A character like that can steal the audience’s focus if not checked, and while the performers clearly know that audiences react well to her, she luckily didn’t take over the entire show. Tom Whitmore is also memorable as played by the show’s writer, Ben Ducoff, who portrays the character with a remarkable blend of charisma and obnoxiousness.

    Much of the play’s drama stems from social and economic issues, with a particular focus on race relations. Dale, a black man denied through institutional poverty the chance to make his own “American dream” come true, finds himself tempted by the $17,000 he’s offered by the Whitmores to whack their enemies. What seems like a quest for personal vengeance for the Whitmores grows into a bizarre campaign to overthrow the entire white bourgeoisie system that has the neighborhood in its clutches and start the whole thing anew. But are the white Whitmores really trying to improve Dale’s position life, or are they merely exploiting his tragic past to get what they want?

    Such themes can be powerful if deftly weaved into a text, but The Whitmores tends to eschew that subtle approach and instead makes absolutely sure that the audience realizes what it’s trying to say. Occasionally, this led to the show feeling more like a social diatribe than drama, though some of the information provided was necessary to understand what the characters were driving at with their actions. Sometimes there really isn’t a subtle way to deliver the facts an audience might not be aware of, and the play does a reasonably good job when this is the only route available.

    One unfortunate casualty is the character of Dale, who by all indications the play puts into the most challenging moral position. However, this doesn’t end up meaning much if the audience can’t latch on to Dale. In a way, he’s the only “real” human being in a world full of strange caricatures, meaning that it’s hard to buy into the rest of the play’s world unless the audience can empathize with him. Sometimes it’s easy to, but often it’s quite a bit harder, due in part to H. Grant Meacham’s understated performance. It was occasionally difficult to tell why Dale was able to make certain hard decisions so easily, and the somewhat-too-subtle expressions on his face made probing his psyche that much more difficult.

    “The Whitmores” isn’t hopeless, far from it. It’s an intriguing show with a lot of tantalizing qualities, but it doesn’t seem to have its blend of human drama, social commentary, and dark wit quite right yet. Even with that criticism in mind, it’s important to remember that such growing pains are somewhat expected when determining what works and what doesn’t in an original show. Especially here, in an over-the-top satire, a precise balance is needed between the fantastical elements and those that are more grounded and believable. The potential for greatness is there. Perhaps with some tinkering and a little more time, “The Whitmores” can reach the potential hinted at by its most dramatic and hilarious moments.

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