For me, Hooded or Being Black for Dummies was the most challenging play I’ve seen recently. As directed by Ahmed Best and written by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm for the Echo Theatre Company, the production has a knock-about, messy vibe to it that floats us over and through a classic tale of black and white sensibilities …. except that both main characters — young Marquis (a buttoned up Jalen K. Stewart) and Tru (charismatic Brent Grimes) are both, er, African American youths.
The play opens with a glare-down by Officer Borzoi (Robert Hart). Suitably chastened, we learn that Marquis has been adopted by Debra (Tasha Ames), a well-meaning white woman who has turned her son into an over-achieving generic version of someone who would be identified in a line-up as black. And that’s exactly what happens. When he lands in a lock-up, he meets street-wise Tru, who takes it upon himself to create “Being Black for Dummies,” so that Marquis (and we audience members), can learn how to navigate a world that was not made for him.
Through their interactions, Tru learns about and invokes the Birth of Tragedy when Nietzche wrote: “…art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian—Dionysian duality…” We experience Marquis’ and even classmate Hunter’s (a frenetic Vincent Doud) efforts to be “black” intermixed with helpings of the Apollonian-Dionysian duality, until playwright Chisholm’s concept becomes clear. Do you see what I mean by messy? Yet it all gels.
Echo has produced the play with sturdy efficiency. Most notable are the school uniforms assembled by Elena Flores, with scenic design by Song Yi Park and lighting by Matt Richter. To help tell the story, director Best has assembled a winsome group of would-be teens (Clare Margaret Donovan, Betsy Stewart, Tasha Ames again, Vincent Doud and Ezekiel Goodman), who play various roles as the need arises.
Hooded or Being Black for Dummies runs through April 18, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m and Mondays at 8 p.m. General admission is $34, or pay what you want on Mondays. (NOTE: proof of vaccinations is necessary and wearing masks is required.) Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. Parking is free is in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) parking lot one block south of the theater. For reservations and information, call (310) 307-3753 or online at www.EchoTheatreCompany.com.