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Baltimore at Pitt Stages

A play explores how we talk about race

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Baltimore is the kind of play that is relevant more than it is revelatory. It adroitly captures the divergent mores of contemporary race relations. But this 2015 work by Kirsten Greenidge (and now at University of Pittsburgh Stages) will probably become dated, because as exemplary as it is in reproducing the language of racial and gender issues, it gets stuck in the muck of it, trying to think for the audience, instead of leading the audience to think for itself.

Director Ricardo Vila-Roger does an excellent job of transforming the often didactic text into believable dialogue among the characters at an imaginary college, where a racial slur has blossomed contentiously on social media.

Daria M. Sullivan delivers a strong performance as Shelby, the resident adviser who hides behind her cell phone instead of intervening to quell the growing maelstrom in her dorm. We all know this young person, who thinks life is what is put on a résumé, not what is actually lived.

Fiona (Gabrielle Kogut), who is white, insists that because she has been called “snowball” back home, she has the right to make a racial joke about her black classmate Alyssa (Tyler Cruz).

The other students take various positions, including Rachel (Sophia Rodriguez), who insists that she is “Latina” and not “Hispanic,” and has a lot of fun with lines like “post-racial, post-my ass.” Carson (Charles Kronk) is a white nerd who talks of “a metric system of race” and tries to gain credibility by hinting that he’s not sure whether he’s gay, plus he “has a Chinese grandmother.” The sardonic Leigh (Maya Boyd) sees life in Manichean terms, and is the most offended.

The dialogue veers from hip to preachy to gratuitous, and some lines, like Shelby’s “My world view is a bunch of memes cut and pasted together,” feel like they’re waiting for a rim shot. The cacophony scenes, which say nothing, say the most, with all the characters circling the set and talking at once. Vila-Roger stages these moments to powerful effect.

Leenie Baker’s lighting, and MarkoWest’s sound designs, keep the show glowing and flowing.

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