Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun”, grappled with issues of race, class and the concept of separate but equal in mid century Chicago. While the restrictive covenants characterized in the play no longer exist as statues, The Goodman Theatre’s “Buzzer”, once again has as its backdrop a changing neighborhood and peoples perceptions of what is socially acceptable.
“Buzzer”, by Chicago native Tracey Scott Wilson, takes on love, race and class in what the Goodman bills as a darkly comic 21st-century exploration of the effects of a changing neighborhood on three cohabitating twenty-something. The Minneapolis Star Tribune called it “a study of sex and the city in post-racial times”.
Wilson and Eric Lynch, who portrays the lead character Jackson, spoke respectively about the inspirations for the play and connecting to the character.
Just as Hansberry, Wilson pulled from her personal experiences living in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn New York - site of the three-day Crown Heights riots of 1991 - when writing Buzzer. She had a front row seat to many of the concepts portrayed in the play. From living in a rapidly changing, sometime violent neighborhood and being an urban pioneer to the high-pressure 24x7 world of attorneys to the slow and arduous trek of recovering alcoholics. Wilson has woven a tale that speaks to her life experiences.
Buzzer follows three young people - Jackson, an attorney, his white girlfriend Suzy (Lee Stark), a teacher at a tough inner-city school, and his troubled boyhood best friend Don (Shane Kenyon) also white, as the three move into a newly rehabilitated building—one with broken buzzers—in a lower-class, urban neighborhood that is grappling with the effects of gentrification and is still sometimes dangerous.
The themes of racism and alcoholism that run through the play have led to it being labeled a dark comedy. Wilson offers, “no matter how serious the situation humor gets you through it whether its intentional or not”. “Humor”, Wilson says, “is a very human response”.
Lynch pulls on his experiences for the character of Jackson and says he didn’t find playing the character a big transformation. He internalized Wilson’s direction to portray Jackson as someone ‘feeling and dreaming his way out of a bad neighborhood.” Lynch also drew on his experiences to connect to the character. He says his reality was one of having his Black friends call him ‘white boy’ because he was studious, while his white friends were not as embracing of him as they would have been if he were white. “Its the subtleties you become attuned to,” he says.
The entire play focuses on just three characters and Lynch feels they are well flushed out and multi-dimensional. “Audiences will have to decide which character they like and relate to, but most of all we want them to have an entertaining night”.
Both Wilson and Lynch believe the play will create not just buzz, but also conversation. “I hope the play moves people to talk to someone they don’t usually talk to or think about something differently that leads to conversations”, says Lynch.
Both agree that the so-called “post racial” America we’re living in is more myth than reality. “I don’t know what that term means”, says Wilson. “We have to acknowledge where we come from in order to get anywhere. The past is never done and we have to continually learn from it”.
Buzzer runs February 8 – March 9 in the Owen Theatre; opening night is Tuesday, February 18. Tickets ($10 - $40; subject to increase) are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Buzzer, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn)..
EVENTS AROUND BUZZER
POST-SHOW DISCUSSIONS Following each Wednesday performance of Buzzer, stay for a discussion about the play with members of the artistic team. Goodman Theatre | FREE
COLLEGE NIGHT Enjoy pizza, pop and the opportunity to mingle with other students and Goodman artists before a performance of Buzzer. Tuesday, February 12, 6pm | Goodman Theatre | $10 with promo code COLLEGEBUZZ (must redeem with valid student ID)
ARTIST ENCOUNTER - A discussion with playwright Tracey Scott Wilson and director Jessica Thebus. Sunday, February 16, 5pm | Goodman Theatre | FREE Reservations are required. Call 312.443.3800 to reserve your seats.