After you see the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of The Story, you’ll never read a newspaper article the way you did before.
But pay attention, or you might miss something. Rapid-fire dialogue and scenes in which characters have multiple, alternating conversations with several people simultaneously are two techniques playwright Tracey Scott Wilson employs to create an intense, fast-paced newsroom setting for the play, which is set in the present day.
The uncertain heroine is Yvonne, a young black reporter who is employed by a renowned urban paper. While she was hired to write for a black features section, she expects a quick promotion to the metro section. Conflicts quickly arise between Yvonne and her boss, Pat, an older black woman who has a different perspective about the role of a black reporter at the paper. Yvonne and her co-worker Neil clash as they each race to uncover the identity of a murderer. The web of Yvonne’s story and identity soon unravels, and questions about her work threaten to halt her career. As the layers are exposed, you’ll be stunned by the creative license that journalists of the playwright’s world – and perhaps of our world – are able to use.
Advance press about the play discussed the story’s relevance to the fall of journalists Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. The play’s program directs the audience to journalists’ ethics and the First Amendment. However, don’t let these themes dupe you into believing the play is solely about journalism.
Ultimately, the journalism-based story line is secondary to the play’s ability to illustrate and weave together conflicts among African Americans, the business world, interracial romance and between generations and classes. Expect an ending that will leave you attempting to distinguish between fact and fiction, and realizing the interconnectedness of society.
Despite the characters’ reliance on racial stereotypes, the entire cast performed brilliantly and embraced their roles. While each actor gave a solid performance, the acting by Brienin Bryant (Yvonne), Danai Gurira (Latisha), and Pamela Isaacs (Pat) were particularly notable.
The sparse set, which is quickly transformed from a modern office space to a cinderblock-lined street, enables the audience to focus on the dialogue. A more complex set would create distraction.
Let’s hope that Philadelphia’s theater companies present more works by Tracey Scott Wilson, who holds a master’s degree in English literature from Temple. After attending a performance of The Story, it will be easy to see why her work has captured both artistic and critical acclaim.
The Story runs through Feb.27 at the Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey St.
Mindy Ehrhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.