nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
August 10, 2007
Last summer, Yale students Evan Joiner and Kobi Libii took a trip through the Midwest armed with a camcorder and a list of questions for people: "What race are you? What does that mean to you? What does it mean to be another race? What is race? Racism?" This summer, they are presenting nine of those interviews in Boiling Pot, a thought-provoking examination of the state of race in modern America.
It's not a complete overview, and Joiner and Libii admit as much; the interviews presented only feature men, and largely only black or white men (the lone exception is an Iranian-American student). Presenting only nine perspectives on such a complex issue as race would also cause anyone to fall short, and in retrospect I may have welcomed hearing from one or two more voices.
But their work is equally compelling for different reasons. They may not have chosen many interviews, but the ones they chose, they chose carefully, presenting a wide variety of perspectives—from a Caucasian truck driver, who seems to base his entire belief in the superiority of the white race on the existence of August Strindberg, to the middle-aged African American engineer and journalist who recalls how he overcame years of teachers telling him he wasn't smart enough to be a scientist. They also contrast two interviews with two students, each one race, each trying to be the other race. The last interview represented, with Joiner playing the Iranian student, is a rending—and chilling—reminder that there are myriad races in this country, and ignoring how some people are mistreated may come back to haunt us all.
But Libii and Joiner have not just selected their parts well, they perform them well, easily flowing from one distinct character to the next. Libii is a particular revelation—he's nearly a chameleon, seeming not just to change his performance but his very presence with each change. He is awkward and self-effacing as a college student struggling with the realization that he just may be the "token black friend" among his college friends, but then when he made the switch to being a middle-aged former DJ in Pennsylvania, his whole carriage changed—for a split second I thought his very face had also changed.
Director Milton Justice seems to have taken the wise route of letting the performances speak for themselves, using only two chairs for the set and using only subtle light and costume changes to support the character changes. Similarly, Joiner and Libii also seem to have wisely let the words of their interview subjects speak for themselves. Boiling Pot isn't an easy piece, but it's certainly a rewarding one.