“The Submission” at Big Idea Theatre

 

“The Submission” sounds like a comedy at first.

Danny, a young white, gay playwright, submits his new drama about an African-American family under a nom de plume in the hope of increasing its chances for production. When it’s selected to be featured in a festival, Danny hires Emilie, a black actress, to stand in for him as author.

This bad idea only gets worse as Danny’s play gets closer and closer to production and tensions between him, Emilie, Danny’s boyfriend and Danny’s best friend grow more and more taut.

There are definitely comedic moments in this fast-paced contemporary one-act show, but it’s not as lighthearted as the synopsis seems.

Danny, played by Benjamin T. Ismail, spouts off racist comments in front of Emilie, portrayed by City College graduate Imani Mitchell. Most of Danny’s comments aren’t mal-intended, but that doesn’t make them less hurtful. Emilie, in that same vein, says homophobic things to Danny and his boyfriend Pete, played by Joshua Glenn Robertson. Caught in the middle of all this is Trevor, brought to life by Eason Donner, who is Danny’s best friend and later becomes Emilie’s boyfriend.

All these conflicts come to an explosive head in a climactic shouting match that alters the relationships of every character in the play. It’s hard to watch these overall-likable characters argue, and it’s hard to hear what they all say when tempers flare. Throughout the play, whenever things seem like they’re going all right – or at least as “all right” as they can in this twisted situation – the characters make faux pas and negate the progress they’d made. As the playwright of “The Submission” Jeff Talbot says in his author’s note, “It’s about how ill-equipped we are to talk to each other, and how we should strive, every day, to do what Trevor asks Danny to do: ‘Find better words.'”

When it comes down to Big Idea’s production itself, the show is first-rate. Ismail’s Danny is completely believable as a writer, and brings heaps of charm to the character. You really want to like him whenever his character isn’t stuffing his foot in his mouth. Mitchell’s Emilie plays very well off of Ismail, and balances strength, humor, and occasional anger with ease. Robertson’s Pete is perfectly smug and practical, and Donner as Trevor is endearing and genuine.  All of the actors have excellent timing and keep the pace of the show snappy throughout.

Sadly, as soon as you begin to like or sympathize with one of the excellently-portrayed characters they invariably say something out of line, leaving the audience feeling conflicted.

The lighting and set are simple, and the direction by Jouni Kirjola gives the actors room to shine. The production feels natural in the intimate theater.

All told, “The Submission” is well worth seeing. If the purpose of art is to make one think, this show definitely achieves it. Talbott’s script unflinchingly brings up some of the hard questions that we tend to avoid, and makes us face some things we might not otherwise take time to reflect upon.

“The Submission” plays Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through July 5. (Thursday night tickets are only $10!) More information and tickets can be found HERE.

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