By Eric J. Grimm
Amiri Baraka’s unfortunately timeless two-hander, ‘The Dutchman,’ is always worthy of a revisit, and New Federal Theatre is just the company to take it on. Led by Woodie King,Jr., NFT has a long history with Baraka’s work and has dedicated this season to the playwright and poet, who passed away in 2014. King’s new production mostly lets Baraka’s one act play out exactly as written with few embellishments to distract.
Michael Alcide ably plays Clay, a buttoned-up black man on an endless subway ride to a party. Ryan Jillian Kilpatrick is his foil, Lula, an abrasive woman who spends the ride seducing him and calling him out for attempting to assimilate to white culture. Baraka’s play has aged well; its commentaries on racial identity and, particularly, the hidden meanings in works by black artists, burst forth in Clay’s terrifically written final monologue.
His observations remain painful and infuriating and King’s production, even with the use of multimedia to suggest the train ride, rightly lets Baraka’s dialogue drive the production.
‘The Dutchman’ is so well-constructed and energetic, that it need only be presented as Baraka wrote it. So what to make of Ryan Jillian Kilpatrick, a black actress, playing Lula, described by Baraka in the script as a “white woman” with “red hair”? King appears to be disguising Kilpatrick: she’s light-skinned and hidden underneath an ornate white eye mask and a Barbie wig, which she removes for the curtain call. Much of the discomfort of the play comes from the very white Lula hurling epithets and racially charged judgments at Clay until he explodes. Lula’s goading stings less when it doesn’t come from a WASP, though Kilpatrick fully embraces Lula’s antagonistic and insidious nature. Given her talent, King’s casting move could make for an interesting interpretation of the character and the criticism that black men endure from a variety of sources, but Kilpatrick would have to shed the wig and mask for it to be a bold statement.
The Dutchman is playing at Castillo Theatre (543 West 42nd St.) through March 8th. For tickets, visit
*Photos: Gerry Goodstein