Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is forthright in her style and uncompromising in her themes, which mostly center on the depths of racial identity and conflict. White Noise brings together four likable friends and follows them into places that are–to the audience as well as the characters–disturbing, shocking and eye-opening.
In the intimate Milton Theatre, the audience can almost breathe down the necks of artist Leo (RJ Brown), lawyer Dawn (Katie Kleiger), online broadcaster Misha (Tatiana Williams), and academic Ralph (Quinn Franzen) as they live their lives as individuals and couples. Alexander Woodward's compact scenic design uses a turntable to pack several locations into a small space, including Leo and Dawn's bedroom, Misha and Ralph's living room, and a gun range where the friends gather to let off steam. (It isn't purely symbolic; Leo and Ralph were members of the rifle team at college.)
Director Reginald L. Douglas slowly tightens the tension as the four characters learn the power of privilege and the privilege of power. The "woke" white characters realize they aren't living up to their ideals, as Dawn worries about the integrity of the law and Ralph lives in expectation of a promotion that borders on entitlement. The African Americans have their own concerns: Misha "performs blackness" as host of her livestreamed call-in show "Ask A Black," and Leo has a problematic run-in with the police during a late night walk. What happens to them next will jolt both the characters and the audience.
When Leo first uses the term "white noise," it has no racial connotation; he's referring to the neutral noise (what he calls "the sound of the sound of silence") that helps him through a longtime case of insomnia. By the time Misha offers a definition of "black noise," the context has shifted from everyday to almost unrecognizable.
Dominique Fawn Hill has designed striking, character-revealing costumes for the four actors, from the eye-catching colors and fabrics for Misha and Leo's loose, easy outfits to a single, simple shape that causes gasps in the audience.
White Noise runs through February 20, 2022, in the Milton Theatre at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Leo: RJ Brown