Atlanta Art Reviews by Susan K Asher
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‘Brownie Points’ Scores Yummy

2010 February 14
L to R: Nevaina Rhode, Terry Burrell, Carolyn Cook, Mary Kathryn Kaye, and Courtney Patterson  Photo: Chris Bartelski

L to R: Nevaina Rhode, Terry Burrell, Carolyn Cook, Mary Kathryn Kaye, and Courtney Patterson Photo: Chris Bartelski

Leave it to comedic Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer to make a comedy out of racism.

In her play “Managing Maxine,” performed last year at the Alliance Theatre, she made us laugh at love between two senior citizens. Now she trumps that with the complexities and humor of racism in the South.

Directing her latest play “Brownie Points,” now playing at Theatrical Outfit, is renowned entertainer Jasmine Guy, who recently directed “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.”

Both Guy and Shaffer probably have their own experiences with discrimination in the South. They grew up in the 70s in Atlanta when there were a lot fewer Jews–Shaffer is Jewish– and a lot fewer mixed marriages–Guy’s mother is white and her father is black.

Set in the present an hour outside of Atlanta, ”Brownie Points” looks at prejudices and racism as five women take their daughters’ Brownie troop on a weekend camping trip. The kids get along fine, but the women have trouble playing nicely.

Allison (Carolyn Cook) has planned the weekend precisely in 15-minute increments. With Deidre (Terry Burrell) arriving more than two hours late to their cabin, Allison begins to boil. And when Deidre realizes Allison has scheduled her and Nicole for kitchen duty all weekend, she becomes outraged that a white woman would schedule the two black mothers for kitchen work as if they are some type of “Aunt Jemima.”  Topping Deidre’s anger even more is that Allison chose Forsyth County, Ga., a county known for its racism, for their camping site.

Although it revolves around racism, the play doesn’t feel preachy at all. Shaffer has peppered the script with humor from the lines people say—“I graduated tops in my class if you don’t count the Asians and Indians”—to the ironic situations.

There is no resolution that finally shows one mother is prejudiced or one is not. Shaffer and Guy have created a production that makes us conscious of how people of other races and religions might perceive our actions, whether they be locking a car door when we see a black man or assigning two black people to kitchen duties.

While the script is entertaining, it’s the cast that makes this 90-minute play a joy to watch. Each actor has created a character so believable that I’m sure I’ve known people like each one of them.  Nobody overacts or plays for laughs. The actors are believable and outstanding every step of the way.

With that said, there are a couple of points in the play that are not believable. In one scene, Deidre is making dinner preparations while Nicole is supposed to be chopping vegetables for stew. But instead of chopping her carrots, Nicole spends the whole scene grating two carrots with a knife. In every other way this character seems like an intelligent woman, which leads me to believe she knows stew is made with hearty, chopped vegetables. Either the theater is more concerned with conserving carrots than creating reality or Nicole doesn’t understand the meaning of “chopped” and has never eaten stew.

In one other scene I was shaken out of reality again. Out of the blue a loud thunderclap roars, and the characters say it is pouring rain. For about another 10 minutes they talk about the drenching outside, the heavy storm that has downed the power lines and cut off their electricity and heat. Yet we see no lightning and hear no more thunder, not even the slightest pitter-patter of raindrops falling.

Those flaws, however, are minor. This show is well worth seeing for its fine script and superb acting.

Featuring Mary Kathryn Kaye, Courtney Patterson, and Nevaina Rhodes, “Brownie Points” runs through Feb. 28 at Theatrical Outfit.

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