Through Feb. 28. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $35. Theatrical Outfit, 84 Luckie St. N.W. 678-528-1500, www.theatricaloutfit.org.
Bottom line: More thoughtful than insightful.
By Bert Osborne
As one well-intentioned character poses it in Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer’s “Brownie Points,” “How do we judge others – by their best moments, or their worst?”
The answer, as any decent theater critic could tell you, is: both.
Smoothly directed by Jasmine Guy, Theatrical Outfit’s handsome production (rustic set by Jamie Bullins, moody lighting by Rob Dillard) also boasts the formidable acting talents of Terry Burrell, Carolyn Cook, Mary Kathryn Kaye, Courtney Patterson and Nevaina Rhodes as diverse mothers stranded on a camping trip with a group of adolescent schoolgirls (including their daughters).
Shaffer typically touches on socially relevant topics in a rather roundabout way. In “Bluish” (2005), a WASP career woman undergoes a religious conversion after she discovers her Jewish roots. “Managing Maxine” (2007) dealt with the aging issues of a 70-ish widow. Even so, both of these Alliance shows functioned first and foremost as otherwise formulaic romantic comedies.
“Brownie Points” is essentially nothing new – it features the playwright’s standard feminine sensibility, and the socially relevant topic du jour is race relations – but where Shaffer earns her own brownie points is by taking a more direct, if arguably blunt, approach.
With her heart in the right place (which is to say on her sleeve), she plays the proverbial race card by simply throwing it out there on the table. And she leaves her five characters to their own devices, to let down their hair on a not-so-glorified “girls night out,” as it were – with their men back at home (or out of the picture altogether), and with their unseen kids always off pitching a tent in the woods (or watching “SpongeBob SquarePants” in the car).
Three of the mothers are white: Allie (Cook), a take-charge former attorney; Sue (Kaye), a cheery divorcee; and Jamie (Patterson), a voice of reason who’s somewhat aptly described as “a guilty white face under a National Black Arts Festival cap.”
The others are black: Deidre (Burrell), a successful surgeon; and Nicole (Rhodes), a stay-at-home mom. Is it a mere coincidence or a personal affront that the two of them have been assigned kitchen duty for the weekend? Let the debates begin.
Shaffer strikes a nice balance between the headstrong women played by Cook and Burrell, whose tenuous relationship expresses most of the play’s conflict. The roles are potentially unsympathetic, until we learn that one is also caring for a disabled son, or until we listen to the other’s intimate confession about her experience with racial profiling.
Patterson is a delightful standout in the cast as the self-appointed mediator of the group. As written, though, the characters played by Kaye and Rhodes are comparatively extraneous.
“Brownie Points” might not be especially original or profound, but even if you’ve probably heard it all before, the play still gives you something to think about.