“Shades of White” – Play by Local Playwright Explores Race, Reconciliation and Love

Pete Brennan and John Orsulak in “Shades of White”, a dramatic comedy that explores race, reconciliation, and the power of love, by Tulsa-based playwright Ilan Kozlowski.

“Shades of White”, a compelling and dramatic comedy in two acts by Tulsa-based award-winning screenwriter and playwright Ilan Kozlowski, premiered to sold-out audiences on November 10, 11, and 12, 2017, at Tyrrell Hall at the University of Tulsa.

Produced and directed by Professor Machele Miller Dill and Echo Theater Company, the play explores the complex relationships between an Israeli immigrant, a former Ku Klux Klan member, and their wives. The setting is Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1990s, the year of the 75th anniversary of the Tulsa Race riot, which intensifies the drama that unfolds.

Narrow-minded Dr. Charles Whitehill and his crone of a wife, Birdie, are set in their miserable, negative ways until Dr. Whitehill encounters Yossi Schwartz, an youthful Israeli musician who describes himself as a “nudist Buddhist who loves everyone.” It is easy to love Yossi, whose humor, youthfulness, and optimism belies a sage “old soul,” with keen insight into human nature and the human condition.

Yossi strikes up his unlikely friendship with the older Dr. Charles Whitehill through the coffee shop they both frequent. With heroic amounts of compassion and understanding, Yossi deftly handles Whitehill’s harangues, incessant complaining, and insensitive diatribes, which encompass race, religion, politics, and more. Before too long, Whitehill, the epitome of a racist bigot, is – somewhat reluctantly – inviting Yossi and his wife Nina to his home for dinner. Yossi and Nina discover that Whitehill’s bigotry is exceeded only by his cynical and hostile wife Birdie’s.

As the play progresses, the characters’ deeply held convictions about race, tolerance, relationships, and love unfold with increasing drama and startling anger (on the part of the Charles and Birdie), and understanding and humor (on the part of Yossi and Nina). The Whitehill’s bigoted views, and intolerance for any beliefs other than their own are challenging for the audience, provoking, at times discomfiture, due to the sensitive nature of the topics, and Charles’ and Birdie’s fiercely stated beliefs. This is countered by Yossi’s optimistic philosophical views on life, and his easygoing, insightful humor. The combination creates dynamic tension and frisson, keeping the audience on their toes.

As the friendship between the two couples develops, both Charles and his wife begin to expose their vulnerabilities. It becomes evident that underneath their layers of hostility, anger, and intolerance is deeply-rooted shame for precedent events in their lives, and brokenness that has infected their souls for decades. Whitehill reveals that his father was in the Ku Klux Klan, and he still has the uniform, along with a telling letter. Birdie finally shares with Nina a tragic story of broken dreams, and a profound personal tragedy that had affected her life since. Nina shares painful information about her past, and the impact of her choice and sacrifice she made in choosing to stay true to her heart and Yossi.

By the end of the first act, Yossi and Nina have started a family, and moved in next door to the Whitehills, thanks to Charles’ surprising generosity in helping them with a home. As they spend more and more time with the Whitehills, they manage to extract the long-repressed humanity from Charles and Birdie, enabling them to reconnect to their feelings and emotions, and confront the issues that have haunted and hurt them for decades. A surprise visitor to the Whitehill’s home, inconceivable at the opening of the play, provides a glimpse of the personal healing and reconciliation to come.

The second act continues to build on the tension and revelation of personal tragedy, and lighthearted humor. Along with this is growing, and much-needed personal insight on Charles’ and Birdie’s part, which comes none to soon for Birdie. Charles, who finally sees the personal prison he has been living in, caused by his shame and intolerance.

Director Machele Miller Dill masterfully paced the play, keeping the pace dynamic and lively, and created an atmosphere that perfectly balanced the wide spectrum of emotions with the sensitive nature of the material. The set design and lighting worked seamlessly, with the coffee shop in the foreground on ground level, and the Whitehill’s elegantly appointed, all white and cream-colored living room, on stage level. The cast was powerful, spirited, perfectly suited to their roles, and successfully created strong, convincing characters.

Driven by Yossi’s philosophical humor and intractable belief in the healing power of love, “Shades of White” is an uplifting, challenging, humorous, and ultimately hopeful, fast-paced comedy that is relevant for our society today.

Produced by Echo Theater Company
Director – Machele Miller Dill
Charles Whitehill – John Orsulak
Birdie Whitehill – Julie Tattershall
Yossi Schwartz – Pete Brennan
Nina Schwartz – Diana Easter
Reverend Jeremiah Browning – Kelly Daniels

Updated 01-16-2018

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