An unknown playwright submits a poignant and passionate play portraying the inner-city struggles of an African-American family to a national playwrights’ festival, and it captures the attention and hearts of all involved. The playwright has such a unique and authentic voice of an African-American experience that a well-known director wants to help her get her play produced.
The only problem? The author is Danny, a gay, white playwright from a privileged background who faked an author’s name, ethnicity and gender to lend credibility to his play. Danny’s solution? Hire an African-American actress to portray the playwright—just until the play’s debut.
The Submission by Jeff Talbott tackles a number of fascinating issues, including race, gender and sexual-orientation stereotyping and discrimination; who gets to claim a valid victims’ “voice”; and who gets to play the most-oppressed-group card.
Big Idea Theatre tackles this multilayered production with an impressive four-person cast, including two leads—Benjamin T. Ismail as Danny and Imani Mitchell as Emilie—who give pitch-perfect performances. Ismail supplies some heart and vulnerability to a character who sometimes comes across as self-centered and a bit bratty, and Mitchell infuses passion and self-possession into her portrayal of an actress who tries to untangle the web of deceit they both have woven. Rounding out the talented quartet are Eason Donner as Danny’s BFF and Joshua Glenn Robertson as Danny’s partner.
While The Submission brings up hot topics that have been in the news lately—such as the power of language when it comes to racism or personal usage and meaning—at times the play feels like the issues take precedent over the plot and characters. But under the direction of Jouni Kirjola, this Big Idea Theatre cast adds depth to the story of two passionate people who believe strongly in each of their personal stories.