From unsavvy Israeli immigrants to domineering black women to dutiful WASP husbands — such easily parodied stereotypes would seem to make for an exciting opportunity to be entertained for an evening, but the Heritage Theater Ensemble’s production of “Diva Daughters Dupree” is mereley satisfying. Although the play has no reservations in humoring racial stereotypes, its complex racial themes are not well supported by the simplicity of the play’s setting and production.
Directed by JuLondre Brown ’10, “Diva Daughters Dupree” explores interracial dating, family dynamics and class issues. Set in Philadelphia in 1995, the story is about three very different black sisters who reunite in their family home after 10 years. Each sister is romantically involved with a man of a different race, and each unveils different layers of racism present in American society. According to Brown, playwright Kim Euell’s intention was to question the outcomes of when people stop censoring themselves and start talking openly about touchy issues.
Superficially, the actors are well cast since they all fit the description of their characters, but the acting itself is only decent. There are a few impressive performances by actresses Naomi Bland ’10, who plays bossy financial advisor Billie Dupree, and Brandee Blocker ’12, who plays her free-spirited sister Abbey. Frank Bewkes’ ’10 portrayal of Billie’s docile white husband Zak, however, seems too contrived, and Sarajane Williams ’09 struggles with her role as Sarah Dupree.
The problem is the obvious affectation present in some of the characters’ relationships. When Zak and Billie step on stage for the first scene, it seems as though Zak isn’t sure how to interact with Billie. There is no connection between the two characters, the dialogue rolls too quickly to be believable and their physical contact seems tense and edgy. Zak and Sarah’s dynamic also appears contrived. Sarah and Zak’s overzealousness when they excitedly ramble about sports is strained, and any physical contact between the two is awkwardly forced.
Despite a few acting inadequacies, the cast nonetheless manages to pull through in a number of scenes, the most powerful of which is when Sarah and Billie confront one another about their acrid relationship. The play’s message culminates in this scene — the actors fiercely present the emotional effects of racial discrimination. Billie’s performance is captivating as her suppressed feelings are finally released; her booming voice and angry gestures truly capture her agony as a dark-skinned black child who was forced to attend a colored school and wear thrift clothing. Sarah is also impressive as her voice alters with the pain she suffered when attending a white school as a light-skinned child.
The play is riddled with trite and crude puns and jokes that strike at the heart of racial issues, but the corniness of the jokes still leaves the audience unprepared for the play’s cheesy ending. Still, the play succeeds in making the audience conscious of racial issues from the beginning to the end. Just don’t get offended when Sarah repeatedly tells you that she “don’t eat white meat.”