THEATRE / War between the sexes: Dutchman - Albany Empire

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'YOU'RE NOT a nigger,' a white girl taunts a well-dressed young black on the New York subway. 'You're just a dirty white man.' 'I sit here in this buttoned-up suit,' he tells her, 'to keep myself from cutting all your throats.' Dialogue such as this must have made the middle-class audiences at Dutchman feel their own throats tightening in 1964, when LeRoi Jones's one-acter was awarded the New York critics' prize for best off-Broadway play. Now, however, the contempt and anger seem contrived, almost comical, and the play a museum piece of the earnest daring of mid-Sixties Greenwich Village.

Slouching into a subway car, Lula, wearing a sweatshirt and trainers, acts as if she's in black satin and high heels. She accuses Clay of staring at her legs and rear end, rubs up against him ('Am I exciting you right now?'), and, in case we're in any doubt about her intentions, asks him to call her Lula Lula and offers him an apple. Clay responds with nervous politeness to her overtures, with bewildered politeness to the way she abruptly turns her back at the height of a tease. He is also puzzled by how much she knows about him, but she only smiles and says he's easy to figure out: 'You're a type.' When the come-on turns to scorn for Clay's 'manhood', he rounds on Lula, spitting out the hatred he says all blacks feel for all whites: 'Murder] It would make us sane.' He turns to go, but this verbal violence is, not surprisingly, punctuated by the thrust of a knife.

Like many contemporary plays by angry young black and white men, Dutchman, written just before Jones changed his name to Imamu Amiri Baraka, seems to be about resentment of women, with their maddening demands and unnerving intuition, rather than society. Jones's skittish Feiffer cartoon of a thrill-seeker, sucking the juice out of every naughty word as it leaves her lips, is too flimsy a floozy to represent white oppression and is even oddly reassuring. She shows that blacks will suffer a tremendous amount of provocation before answering back, will not want to hurt anyone (Clay says: 'I'd rather be a fool, insane, safe with my words and no deaths'), and can be easily disposed of. For all its calculated edginess and rage, Dutchman impresses one more as a statement of impotence and guilt.

The one-hour play might work if its nightmarish qualities were emphasised, and if taken at a headlong pace. But Dein Jones-Ere's production, for the Kakapo Theatre Company, lollops along, even pausing for a tension-destroying interval. Mark Vidol is too concerned with showing what a nice guy Clay is to show the steel beneath the skin, but Nicola Winterson's Lula is a convincingly naive, petulant trollop.

Continues at the Albany Empire (booking: 081-691 3333).

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