09 Mar Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies
You know a stage performance is astounding if tickets are constantly sold out before your eyes. I was grateful for an opportunity to catch a viewing of Terrance Arvelle Cisholm’s Hooded: Or Being Black For Dummies. The performance was held at Sprenger Theatre of Atlas Performing Art Center, a theater few blocks away from Gallaudet University on H Street. Many people of the deaf community rarely go and see a show due to accessibility. Atlas is a theater that includes the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Above the stage is a monitor that runs the captions throughout the show. The captions are big enough for all seats to read and ran at the correct pace of the dialogues.
Photo Credit: Sofia Syed
[Image Description: On the top, projected on a back drop a slide says, this show is being surtitled for our friends in the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community. In front of that is the set design for Hooded: Or Being Black For Dummies. The top half of the set has a red caged like balcony with a red ladder through the red floor that leads to the bottom half of the set. There are two actors sitting on a bench with a canned drink in the bottom half of the set. On the bottom left, audience members are pictured standing in the aisle.]
Ethan Sinnott of Gallaudet University’s theatre department is the set designer for Hooded. With Chisholm’s script, Sinnott successfully matched the playwright’s story, scene, and mood with the set. When seated, the audience will notice in the left corner is a laugh sign that lights up. The function of the sign made the show remarkable and something worthwhile to share with your friends.
Before Hooded: Or Being Black For Dummies began, a black old man in a standard cop uniform spoke to the audience in his character. He claimed phones are strongly encouraged along with flashes and leaving our ringtones on high, as if the show is not important. Of course, none of the audience members have the nerve to follow his advice. He then discussed the laugh sign. He expected the audience to laugh when it is lit. If we laugh at a different time, we are considered racist.
The show opens with two boys sitting in a jail cell. Marquis is dressed in his school uniform, appearing innocent and lost. With him is another boy named Tru, who talks in a more colloquial and street style when Marquis speaks academically. Tru is puzzled at the lack of “blackness” in his new friend.
One thing that made Marquis stand out is the fact a white family adopts him. It was his mother who came and bailed him out of jail. Tru joked that Marquis’ life is like Blind Slide except Marquis’ mother is not anywhere close as Sandra Bullock. To expand the idea of the Blind Side, Marquis’ mother decided to take in Tru against Marquis’s wishes, saying Tru is her son’s first “cultural” friend.
The show began with the boys discussing how they ended up in jail. Marquis was trespassing and was caught “Trayvoning,” a meme trend of people lying down like Trayvon Martin. The laugh sign was lit when it happened. Tru knew Marquis was only caught because he’s black and was abandoned by his two so-called white best friends.
The show depicts the differences between Marquis and Tru as Marquis and his peers at school. Marquis was a nerd who was a wreck around girls, enjoys reading Nietzsche and of the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Tru, on the other hand, rely on the words of the late rapper Tupac and spoke fondly of his own ruby red Jordan shoes. Tru then created a binder full of facts and lyrics that would help Marquis to become blacker. Tru uses the word of Tupac as if it was the bible. The boys struggle with understanding and embracing each other. Eventually, they noticed that Tupac’s words or theories are much alike Nietzsche, sharing similar concept of life. Meanwhile Marquis becomes obsessed with a dream he had of the Greek gods. Apollo is the god of reason while Dionysus is the god of chaos. The two gods, with a nudge from Tru, made Marquis question his identity. Tru’s “bible” was ignored by Marquis and was instead read by one of his white best friends. He eventually spiraled in a new personality, wanting to be black and eventually it cost him his life.
Chisholm’s script helps the audience to see the difference in races and of the society’s beliefs. He nailed the parallelism between Tru and Marquis. Through a white character, the burden of a young black man is understood. Using Tupac’s words as a new testament was clever and witty and rang true in many cases. For instance, Tru said black people have to work hard twice to be heard. Thus putting the word, “bitch” in every sentence is effective and will get your point across and heard. Marquis’s best friend took that out of context and screamed “bitch” which only made him look stupid. He also attempted the same thing talking to a girl but it only made him vulgar and obnoxious unlike it does for Marquis or Tru.
A play like Hooded: Or Being Black For Dummies is a masterpiece that fits in our current society’s stereotypes and how we view and treat each other. The laugh sign appears when the young white boy attempting to be something he’s not and when the two boys talked of something related to their experience. Regardless my personal lack of ability to hear, I was capable of feeling and seeing when the audience breaks in laughter, with or without the signal turned on. That is the best part of the whole experience. Within that short period time, we can all enjoy the show and learn how racism truly works through other characters. Hooded: Or Being Black For Dummies is a play not only about racism but also of friendships and sharing similar beliefs despite your background or race. I give my huge kudos to Chisholm, Sinnott, and the entire cast and crew for one unforgettable night.
– Sofia Syed