Play Is a Fast-Paced Take on Racism and Journalistic Ethics

By Blaney, Retta | National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Play Is a Fast-Paced Take on Racism and Journalistic Ethics


Blaney, Retta, National Catholic Reporter


Murder, racism and journalistic ethics collide in a fast-paced new play that picks up on the popular notion that reporters are untrustworthy sharks interested only in furthering their own careers. "The Story," a world premiere co-produced by Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., runs at least through Dec. 21 at New York's Public Theater and is likely to extend beyond. It will be staged at the Long Wharf at a later date.

Ericka Alexander plays Yvonne, a newly hired reporter in her mid-20s; Damon Gupton her contemporary, Neil; and Phylicia Rashad their boss, Pat, who is in her early 40s. All are black, but with different perceptions of what it means to be black and how it will or won't affect their chances at that newspaper. These perceptions give each a major attitude that colors the ways they approach their work.

Yvonne likes to act as if racism doesn't exist; Neff and Pat seem to see it everywhere. When Yvonne arrives for her fast day of work, with her resume boasting a summa cure laude degree from Harvard, study at the Sorbonne and fluency in four languages, she is annoyed to find she won't be working on the Metro section where her white boyfriend, Jeff (Stephen Kunken), is editor, but for Outlook where Pat is editor and Neil a reporter. Outlook was the section created to give more positive images of blacks after Metro confused a picture of a black man being arrested with that of another black man arrested years before.

"They used a picture of a brother that was taken two years earlier," says Pat, to which Neff adds: "But nobody noticed because it was just another brother doing the perp walk." So they "complained and cajoled" and got Outlook.

Their differing notions on race come into conflict when Yvonne and Neff both go after the story of who murdered a rich white Teach America teacher near his inner-city school. Neff doggedly pursues the theory that the murdered man's wife, who said a black man had tried to rob them before shooting her husband, really killed him so she could collect his inheritance. He reasons that the police and most of the press will be quick to pick up on the story of a rich white man trying to help inner-city blacks, only to be killed for his efforts. Pat backs him up, citing the 1980s case of Charles Stuart, a white man in Boston who shot his pregnant wife and "tried to blame it on a brother. A couple of my cousins were arrested in that raid."

Yvonne quickly dismisses any comparison and tries to defend Boston before Pat cuts her off with, "Boston is Mississippi 1963 and this paper is Alabama. Understand?"

But Yvonne doesn't understand, ridiculing Pat's attempts to explain the sacrifices her generation made. "God, if I had a dollar for every time an old black person said that to me ... "

Yvonne sees her chance to best Pat and Neil and get herself on the Metro section when she meets a black teenage girl while on assignment at a community center and the girl tells her she is part of a gang that killed the teacher.

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