In BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN, Somebody Jones offers insights into the world of love, dating and marriage through the eyes of five Black women interviewed about their experiences of being in long term relationships with white men. Beginning with a specific recent experience and then developing tangential discussion from there, the piece is engaging throughout and carries an impressive sense of authenticity as we sit in on this chat between friends.
With lockdown making live performance impossible, the piece has been adapted by Khadifa Wong and produced as a Zoom therapy session. Wong’s direction of Merryl Ansah (Aaliyah), Christelle Belinga (Brianna), Arianne Carless (Lisha), Clara Emanuel (Cassy) and Risha Silvera (Kamila) brings both the comedy and the poignancy of the testimonies to the screen with great sincerity, focusing on the wisdom of those further into their relationships and touching on the painful experiences of those not so far along in their relationships who are still struggling significantly with unwanted attention.
There’s great attention to detail too, quickly giving us in a sense of shifting time and spaces as backgrounds and physical positions, clothes and hair all change. Even the ordering of screens shifts along with cosy mugs being replaced by glasses of wine for an evening natter. We aren’t just eavesdropping on one conversation, we’re dipping into these regular confessional chats over time and that sense of visual variety we get in live performance is very nicely reproduced here.
Discussions move between individual and shared experience beautifully and perhaps most impressive of all is just how much ground Jones covers in 40 minutes without undermining the importance of anything mentioned. Allowing the dialogue to overlap in the way that all conversations between five friends do, these discussions are never allowed to fall into a lull as subjects begin and end in a matter of minutes with one person’s story leading the chat in a new direction.
While Jones’ writing maintains a sense of comfortable, natural chat throughout, there are important messages and gentle directives for all viewers. There’s discussion of what a Black woman should expect from an interracial relationship, highlighting the importance of communication and patience without compromising your right to express and feel comfort. But across the whole piece, there are a variety of messages beautifully embedded; by discussing the shortcomings of white men knowing so little about the experiences of Black women, there’s much for all white people to take away when it comes to the importance of recognising privilege and developing greater awareness without the expectation that you can ever really understand. In discussing relationships between Black women and white men, there’s plenty to apply to all interracial relationships requiring whole lives to merge.
Crucially, the women here don’t always agree and that’s key to the sense of authenticity created. While there’s an awful lot of shared experience, there are individual experiences and views which cause a stir and in those moments Jones allows for some more controversial discussion, carefully weaving such moments between comments about not generalising and not speaking for all in a very skilfully balanced script. And that skill extends to the closing moments too, when the women, having vented and explored and shared and laughed about the men they’re tangled up with, they do the classic flip, remembering why they fell in the first place and getting gooey eyed about all the wonderful things their partners do.
Jones ultimately ends on a universal note, reminding us that in the end, love is love, and despite the many struggles involved, when Cupid strikes, there’s no choice but to face those struggles while enjoying the many perks of a happy and supportive relationship.
You can watch BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN on the Hollywood Fringe website here (tickets $5) until Sunday (July 12th 2020). The live play will return to London stages in 2021.
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