'This is Not the Play'

Katrice Headd (as Playwright), from left, Rebecca Frick (White Girl No.1) in CPT’s ‘This Is Not the Play.’

We all have that little voice in our head – the one that offers a second opinion on important decisions, second-guesses bad decisions, and provides a running play-by-play when we encounter something uncomfortable, unexpected or unfamiliar. Rarely heeded but often needed, that little voice is both companion and conscience.

Chisa Hutchinson’s “This Is Not the Play,” performed in one act and in the round at Cleveland Public Theatre, takes us inside the playwright’s head as she is writing this play. We hear her voice as she conjures characters and devises plotlines. We see her imagined characters take shape amidst piles of assorted artifacts (designed by Inda Blatch-Geib and Dred Geib) that represent possible experiences that might give them form, function and dimension.

As such, this is a delightful pretense – an insider’s perspective of the creative process.

But CPT doesn’t do delightful. And Hutchinson, who tends to write plays about people who don’t ordinarily get plays written about them (“Dirt Rich,” “She Like Girls,” “Somebody’s Daughter”), has more in mind for this one.

This Is Not the Play imagines a black playwright (Katrice Headd) trying to write a play about white people. In doing so, she creates two female characters that are patently bigoted (Jessica Annunziata) and blissfully ignorant (Rebecca Frick). The more these self-actualizing and highly argumentative characters disagree with the way they are being portrayed, the more they show their limitations. The more the playwright defends her choices, the more she puts on display her own prejudices.

“From a white playwright,” the voice suggests as she reflects on her creation, “it’s just racist. From a black playwright, it’s provocative.”

This Is Not the Play is most certainly provocative. It is particularly so with the insertion of a self-righteous mother character (Laura Starnik) who traces the roots of her daughter’s bigotry. When the playwright introduces the manifestation of a greasy literary agent (Bobby Coyne) to talk with the girls to help determine their commercial viability as characters in this play, it is also very funny.

Later in the play, the playwright herself makes an appearance inside her own mind to more directly confront her characters. When she admits that all she really wanted to do was “write a nice play about closet lesbians,” the play beautifully merges the provocative with the funny and soars.

Director Emily Ritger’s consistently interesting staging keeps all the action upfront and personal, and Headd and Starnik responded with some brilliant, confident acting on opening night. Others show some apprehension in a play that requires nothing but conviction; something that is also evident in the execution of lighting cues designed by Gregory S. Falcione and sound cues designed by Mike Tutaj. There is no doubt that, given the pedigree of cast and crew, all this will be ironed out and hit on all cylinders in subsequent performances.

Every once in a while, that little voice in our head accidentally slips out of our mouth and reveals some hidden truths for all to hear. “This is Not the Play,” in its regional premiere, offers 65 wonderful minutes worth.

WHAT: ‘This is Not the Play’

WHERE: Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., Gordon Square

WHEN: Through May 31

TICKETS & INFO: $12-$28. Call 216-631-2727, ext. 501 or cptonline.org

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