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A Hierarchy of Color in Rep's Enthralling 'Yellowman'


Oct. 5, 2011
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Dael Orlandersmith's lovely play Yellowman, currently running at the Milwaukee Rep's Stiemke Studio, proves to be an enthralling encounter of two lives struggling to liberate themselves from the binding social hierarchy of inherited values. They soon discover that, like many of us, they are only too human in trying to overcome the hold of inbred ties and self-sustained social restrictions.

The two characters in Yellowman are African-American members of the Gullah culture of the Carolina coast, making their struggles even greater. Eugene is light-skinned, a “yellowman” in terms of that culture, resented by his dark-skinned alcoholic father for whom he is only the result of rapid-fire intercourse. Female lead Alma is stigmatized as fat and very dark-skinned, a woman designed to be used for one purpose only. In this small, isolated world, a color-coded hierarchy of power creates its own internal damage.

Yet these two fall in love. They never address each other directly onstage, but express their feelings to the audience while standing on leveled planes, a device that gives greater authenticity to their feelings without sacrificing intimacy. The superb dialogue, actually two intersecting monologues, constantly enthralls. No praise could do full justice to the beautifully nuanced performance of Erica Bradshaw and the infinite warmth and sympathy Ryan Quinn brings to a difficult role under director May Adrales.

Although reference is made to the Creole Gullah dialect, the players speak standard English throughout. This terrifically insightful and moving play demonstrates once again that eschewing the political in favor of personal experience only enhances the universality of theater as an art form.

The Milwaukee Rep's Yellowman continues through Nov. 13. For ticket reservations, call 414-224-9490.


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