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How ‘Healthy Holly’ play explores racism - with humor | READER COMMENTARY

(From left) Single Carrot Theatre interim Artistic Director Kellie Mecleary; Managing Director Elliott Rauh and Technical Director Michael Varelli are pictured at the marquee of the company's first permanent home at 2600 N. Howard St. The facility opened in 2014. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)
(From left) Single Carrot Theatre interim Artistic Director Kellie Mecleary; Managing Director Elliott Rauh and Technical Director Michael Varelli are pictured at the marquee of the company's first permanent home at 2600 N. Howard St. The facility opened in 2014. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun) (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

Our mission at Single Carrot Theatre is to create socially relevant theater as a form of civic engagement in Baltimore. We create art to encourage dialogue, as is the case in our current production of “Healthy Holly’s Hidden Hideaway” (”Healthy Holly’s hang-ups explored in Single Carrot Theatre production,” Jan. 21).

I stand by the Black playwrights and Black director at the creative center of “Healthy Holly’s Hidden Hideaway” and the art they have created. I believe that as a white arts leader, it is not my role to police how Black artists portray white characters through a Black lens. In order to depict a character’s racism, the character must say racist things. The character referenced in Mary Carole McCauley’s review in The Sun exhibits many traits of the white moderate woman — someone whose ignorance upholds white supremacy — while they simultaneously believe themselves to be absolved.

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While we do not claim authority on the matter, we do not feel the dialogue referenced in Ms. McCauley’s review is at the expense of Indigenous people, as she wrote. Director Kevin McAlister asks “if one would feel the same way about a white writer of a piece referring to Black people as the N-word? The shoe is on the other foot now. These white characters exist, and the Black writers are holding the pen. They have always existed. Heatherly is meant to be a social commentary on those who believe themselves to be ‘woke’ and an even bigger commentary on those who say nothing about their ignorance.” One of the roles of art is to examine the world we live in with all of its complications. By and large, racism is depicted through drama. Perhaps it is easier for a white audience to digest racism when it is depicted seriously. It can be seen as pure evil, as something distant and separate from the way one views themselves in the world.

But what happens when racism is exposed in comedy? What happens when a white audience member is not sure if this is a joke they should laugh at? How can white audience members sit in that discomfort, question it, examine it and wonder where they may see themselves in it? Does an audience member’s laughter imply their complicity in racism and white supremacy? What if you are listening over the phone, alone? Many contemporary Black playwrights are using comedy, and the discomfort comedy can stir up, to portray American racism. Jackie-Sibblies Drury’s “Fairview” comes to mind, as well as much of the work of Brandon Jacobs Jenkins and Jeremy O. Harris. Their work is brazen, shocking, and intended to make a white audience uncomfortable through exposing the racism that Black people and people of color endure. Even SCT’s production of “Safe Space” by R. Eric Thomas explored well-meaning white people through a comedic genre.

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If artists, especially artists of color, can’t portray the damage that white supremacy does, in all genres, then how can we push for personal reflection and ultimately catalyze change?

Genevieve de Mahy, Baltimore

The writer is artistic director of Single Carrot Theatre.

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