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W.S. Jenks & Son

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Wednesday, July 15 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 18 at 12:10 p.m.

They Say: A would-be playwright sets out to portray Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion. Is it okay for a White “artist” to dream this thespian dream? And, just what is he going for anyway? This meaty meta-work will confuse and delight.

Gabi’s Take: The idea of a play-within-a-play about race — really, a play-within-a-play-within-a-play — is brimming with potential for a granular and rich theater experience. But aspiring playwright Jeff (and the real-life counterpart who plays him, writer and director Jeff Reiser) may have been seduced by a venture so far out of his league, it’s playing an entirely different sport.

While clumsy, Avoidance Theater Group’s The Great Awkward Hope is an earnest attempt to forge a discourse on how Americans approach race issues. That includes the usual suspects: the “I’m not a racist, I have black friends” argument, Hollywood’s lack of diversity, police brutality, and Black History Month.

Throughout the performance, the play’s “Jeff” engages with co-workers who try to discourage him from going forward with a play about a white playwright who wants to portray Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion. Through a series of revelations — including an appearance from a rather disgruntled Darth Vader, who sides with Jeff on the lack of credit given to black actor James Earl Jones — Jeff ultimately discovers that his play is an attempt to satisfy his midlife crisis.

In a marvelously meta way, The Great Awkward Hope admits it’s a play about race that doesn’t want to be a play about race. But the show is still in an under-developed state, and doesn’t have the sustenance to compete in an industry already saturated with works that attempt to scratch the surface on race. Between haphazard pacing and poorly delivered lines (at several points, audience members had to look the other way as supporting actors read the script from their laptops onstage), this is really a rehearsal, not a production.

Peppered with genuinely funny lines and a clever premise, The Great Awkward Hope had all the ingredients for a hit. But the topic it attempts to grapple with is a bit overcooked. And without proper execution, all we’re left with is a good idea.

See it if: You are charmed by a sincere play with execution that can be cringe-worthy just as often as it is Fringeworthy.

Skip it if: You’d prefer to privately read race jokes on Black Twitter from the comfort of your own home.

Image courtesy of Avoidance Theater Group