‘Confederates’ play parallels racial biases in America’s past and present

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

The off-Broadway play “Confederates” began previews at Signature Theatre on March 8. Written by Tony Award-nominated playwright Dominique Morriseau, this show brings a comedic yet painfully necessary portrayal of institutional racism into a predominately white industry.

Initially set to open in February of 2020, the show was pushed back two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Morriseau is known for writing the original book of the Broadway musical, “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” which closed in January.

Opening this show 16 days after closing her acclaimed Broadway play, “Skeleton Crew,” Morriseau could not be a hotter name in the theater world.

The show switches between literate slave Sara on a Civil War plantation and Black political science professor Sandra in a present-day academic institution, paralleling their experiences with biases related to race and sex. As these two leading ladies’ stories unravel, the audience observes three other cast members taking on dual roles in both characters’ respective eras.

The recently-divorced Sandra commands power in her introduction but comes across an image of her face photoshopped on a Black slave coddling a white baby, at the same time she is confronting unflattering revelations from her students and co-worker. The freedom-seeking Sara, while naive, finds her own strength and matures in the face of her brother, mentor and slave master’s daughter.

The play demonstrates the issues of mistrust Black Americans have with white acquaintances, the play takes it up a notch by adding tension related to generation gaps, gender stereotypes and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

While these instances of mistrust provide the more dramatic moments of the unfolding story, Morriseau skillfully manages to weave in racy humor. Taboo in nature, she makes painful but necessary points about assumptions, hidden biases and privilege.

It is worth noting that the performers have gone through sensitivity training to perform and deliver lines that would, in another setting be insensitive, such as a white student telling Sandra that she had her “working like a slave” only to realize she “was completely racist back then.”

Audience members are encouraged to be vocal about their reactions, and they do not shy away from laughing, preaching and gasping during the surreal moments of the play. At one point, a person yelled, “Oh no, you did not!”

During the show’s March 18 student night, Morriseau addressed the uncomfortable experiences of the play’s characters and its audience.

“I don’t want us to get too addicted to comfort,” Morriseau told the audience, noting it’s a means of finding one’s “purpose, greatness and light.”

“Confederates” is for anyone who wants to better understand Black experiences in America with drama and explicit humor. It will have its official opening on March 27 and run until April 10. The audience is advised of brief partial nudity during the show.