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The Nacirema Society
at The Alliance Theatre

2010 November 4

Photo by Stephen Poff: Alpha Campell Jackson (Tonia Jackson) and her daughter Lillie (Karan Kendrick)

I wonder why people all around me are laughing when I’m not. Are these lines really funny?

I’m at the Alliance Theatre watching “The Nacirema Society” by renowned playwright and New York Times best-selling novelist Pearl  Cleage.

Apparently, a lot of people think this show is funny. Maybe I don’t because there are two couples behind me editorializing after every couple of lines and won’t shut up.

Maybe that’s why I’m  not laughing so much. I wonder if it’s because I’m not black. Except the white couple next to me is laughing as much as the black couple next to me.

Either way, I don’t find this show funny or believable.

It is 1964 in Montgomery, Alabama, and we’re watching an elite society of black families prepare for the annual cotillion. Would these Noel Coward-type snobbish elderly black women really talk in that British style, forcing their words straight from the middle part of the mouths rather than from their throats or their diaphragms like most Americans? Other than Madonna, who else in this country talks like that?  In the South? And would these wealthy families speak no colloquialisms and have no Southern dialects? I don’t buy it.

I can’t imagine a family of any race or religion from Alabama that would speak in that manner. We all have roots, and these two women – Grace Dunbar and Catherine Green – seem to have been plucked from Britain in the 1930s .

“The Nacirema Society” revolves around a couple of charades: a false claim of love, a false claim of wealth and a plot to deceive a New York Times reporter. It’s very Noel Coward-like but not as believable.

Although I found the acting good, I found the play boring. There were a couple of characters I enjoyed: Alpha Campbell Jackson (Tonia Jackson), a spitfire who schemes to collect money from her deceased mother’s former employer, Grace Dunbar (Trezana Beverley); and Janet Logan (Jasmine Guy), a reporter who has come from New York to spill the beans on what it’s like to be black and living in high society in the South.

Cleage is an award-winning playwright. After last week’s opening night’s performance, a jazz band played in the lobby while crowds surrounded her, raving about the show.

“The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years” runs through Nov. 14 at the Alliance Theatre.


Trezana Beverley

Kevin Alan Daniels

Andrea Frye

Jasmine Guy

Chinai J. Hardy

Tonia Jackson

Karan Kendrick

Naima Carter Russell

Neda Spears

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