Playwright Shaleeha G’ntamobi has written a gritty, groundbreaking new drama centered on an alcoholic African-American mother struggling with addiction as her cardshark son’s high-stakes gambling threatens their tenuous life in the projects. The raw, affecting work has been accepted into the prestigious Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, where it will be produced and staged for its world premiere among other promising new plays.
Except for one problem: Shaleeha G’ntamobi doesn’t exist. Danny Larson, a white gay male, is the real writer behind the aforementioned drama. However, he thinks he lacks the “street cred” to be taken seriously as the playwright, so he hires a black actress named Emilie to impersonate him at the festival.
So begins the convoluted chain of events in The Submission, Zeitgeist Stage’s ambitious spring season closer.
“It’s a dramedy about sexual identity and race relations all set in a theater milieu—so that kind of has Zeitgeist Stage written all over it!” says artistic director David Miller. “I think that we often delude ourselves that there’s not a race problem in America, but incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore certainly bring it to the fore. The play focuses on race issues within the theater community, but I think that that’s applicable to a broader spectrum; that’s what the play does well.”
Issues of race and gender are huge topics at the forefront of our national conversation on civil rights and equality—and Miller explains that many of these issues bleed over into the theater world as well. In recent years, there has been a huge outcry for change. Miller notes that there is a massive imparity between the number of plays produced that are written by white men versus those written by women and people of color (with the scales grievously tipped against the latter). Furthermore, colorblind casting serves to force minorities out rather than create space for them, resulting in situations in which many parts meant to be played by people of color are given to white actors.
“There’s this kind of fight for equality within theater that represents the cross-section of the US population as a whole,” Miller states. “And so that’s been a very big focus [within the theater community], especially over the last two or three years.”
The Submission is a culmination of that tension. It casts a critical eye on the state of equality within America, and the systems of oppression that keep many down in order to raise others up. For Miller, the concept of privilege is key to fully understanding this work.
“[In the play], Emilie says, ‘Don’t you dare equate your experience as a gay white male to my experience as a black female in this society, because they are not comparable. Even though you’re gay, you’re still part of the white male power structure and I am not.’ That’s the kind of exploration of privilege that the play [puts forth],” Miller explains.
The Submission is a tough and unapologetic piece, one that seeks to uncover the ugly parts of society in means that are both uncomfortable and hilarious. Miller is confident that audiences of all backgrounds will find something valuable in the work.
“You watch these nightly broadcasts from Baltimore, and it can be numbing at times. It also can be distant because you think, ‘That’s another city, a different experience,’” Miller says. “But if you go back to when the Boston Marathon bombing was here, we had a much more visceral experience than people just watching it on the news. What I’m hoping is that it just—it does make people take time to pause and think of the implications of sexuality, race, and gender in society and that we still have a way to go.”
ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY PRESENTS: THE SUBMISSION. THROUGH MAY 30. THE BLACK BOX THEATER AT THE BCA, 539 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. $30, $15 STUDENTS. FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT ZEITGEISTSTAGE.COM