Blues tackles gender, racial stereotypes

Spoon Lake Blues made its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage on April 1, and in doing so, left nothing to be desired.  The daring new play, written by a Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition finalist Josh Tobiessen, boldly challenges traditional gender and race stereotypes and very blatantly offers up a non-traditional solution: tolerance.

The play centers on the problems of two brothers, Brady, played by Jimi Kocina, and Denis, played by Luke Robertson. Both come from poor backgrounds, and have seemingly poor futures. Denis is a typical beer-drinking ex-con, who is blatantly racist and not accepting of any amount of change to his current situation.  Brady, on the other hand, seemingly wants to be black, or at least what he perceives to be the current stereotypical black: with stolen “bling,” baggy pants and a backwards hat.

In an effort to save their family’s house from the bank, they turn to robbery, and come up with a system for stealing from their wealthy neighbors in the mountains.  Denis develops a partnership with the local sheriff, Abigail, played by Veronika Duerr, who helps them find houses to rob. All the while, she forces Denis into bed and offers advice on the most current racial stereotypes. “The terminology now is ‘person of color,’” she informs Denis.

In the process of one of their burglaries, they steal a picture frame that contains a portrait of a young, beautiful, successful African-American girl—everything they are not.  In an effort to defy the failings of his socio-economic situation, Brady seeks to win the affections of this lofty girl and, surprisingly, is able to bring her home.

When introduced to the living quarters of the two brothers, Caitland, played by Lakisha Michelle May, cannot help but feel pity. Still, she seeks to embrace them for who they are and love them for it.  The bill collectors are constantly calling, and the brothers need money immediately.  The three develop a relationship, which eventually develops into a partnership, showing both rich and poor that they can live and work in harmony together for a greater goal.

Even though the play covers a number of typically “politically incorrect” topics, the script broaches the topics with a high level of tasteful humor and thoughtful insight.

Much of this insight is derived from the on-stage interactions between Denis and Caitland, who have an initially abrasive and sarcastic relationship.  Caitland continually makes humorous criticisms of Denis’ illogical mistakes, and he retorts with sarcastic remarks about her posh background.

Jimi Kocina undoubtedly steals the stage with the wide range of his character, who is one moment playing a wannabe black guy, and the next he is surprisingly talking his brother into taking a course of action or forgiving him for his idiocy.

Ultimately, Luke Robertson’s character, Denis, becomes the moral center of the play, very faintly playing a worn out, hard-working brother, rarely showing a soft side.  Later in the play, he shows that it is really killing him to see his family and house fall apart and gives us all a lesson in family values.

The script carefully intertwines jokes about racial stereotypes with the irony of Cailtand’s superior situation.  The role reversal is made to be that much funnier by Denis’ unapologetic racism and quips about America’s current situation such as, “Colored people have stuff worth stealing now!”

Despite being a sharp critique of both “political-correctness” and racial stereotypes, Spoon Lake Blues finds a way to tug at your heartstrings and capture an element of old-fashioned romance.   It is full of reflections on the importance of family history and shows exactly how sometimes the less important things can bring people together.


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