I won’t lie. I wanted to hate this play. The minute I found out that it was set in the South and dealt with themes of racism, I thought to myself: “Oh, brother! Get ready for some bad, fake Southern accents and some self-indulging in the Northwest superiority complex.” As a Southerner, myself, who has lived in the Northwest for 10 years now, I have, on more than one occasion, encountered a condescending attitude of certain Seattleites who look down upon the South for its racist heritage, and who believe that they are “enlightened” and “beyond race.” Yes, I wanted to hate this play, but I didn’t!
Taproot Theatre’s production of Brownie Points takes us to the mountains of North Georgia, to Forsyth County to be exact, where, according to dramaturg Sonja Lowe, in January 17, 1987, “just two days after the recently inaugurated Dr. Martin Luther King National Holiday,” county resident Dean Carter, Atlanta Civil rights leader, Hosea Williams, and a group of about 75 black and white demonstrators, who had come together for a “brotherhood march” to “prove that racism in Forsyth County was a thing of the past,” were met by an opposition group of about 300, some in white robes and hoods, with their own signs reading: “Go home, Nigger,” and “Forsythe Stays White”. Taunts, insults, and violence ensued.
Fast-forward about 23 years later, and we meet Allison, Sue, Jamie, Nicole, and Deidre, 5 “real” housewives of Atlanta, who have brought their daughters to spend a weekend camping and convening with nature in the North Georgia woods. Allison, played by Casi Wilkerson, is the troupe leader; she’s an uptight, “type-A” personality, who has every moment of the weekend scheduled down to the very last second. But her planning hits a snag when, Deidre, an African-American surgeon played by Faith Russell, arrives late and discovers that Allison has scheduled her and “Nicole,” the other African-American character, played by Karen Ann Daniels, to do all of the cooking and clean up in the kitchen instead of participating in the other events like hiking and arts and crafts. When Deidre confronts Allison, they clash in an uncomfortable scene that ends with Deidre accusing Allison of being a racist. The rest of the play is spent in intimate conversations between the 5 women, learning about their lives, their private struggles, and exploring a question that intrigues the playwright, Janece Shaffer: “What would ultimately be more powerful, the shared experience of motherhood or the divisiveness of racism”?
Yes, this is an “estrogen-fest,” and it does indeed, at times, come across as a made-for-TV-Lifetime movie, especially the ending, where resolution is achieved, female bonding occurs, and the storm that is raging both inside and outside the cabin subsides. However, this syrupy-sweet ending is balanced out with blunt dialogue that boldly and directly tackles some uncomfortable issues. And luckily, no fake Southern accents were involved!
Brownie Points plays at the Taproot Theatre through June 18th, with post-play discussions on Wednesday nights. It features Casi Wilkerson, Nikki Visel, Amy Love, Karen Ann Daniels and Faith Russell. It is directed by Karen Lund.