Sadly, it appears that race relations in the United States have changed little since playwright Rebecca Gilman’s controversial drama Spinning Into Butter debuted in Chicago in 1999. Almost a decade after its debut, Pink Banana Theatre Company presents the play at the Tenth Street Theatre on July 17. Kara Mulrooney plays Sarah Daniels, dean of students at Belmont College, a fictional liberal arts school in Vermont. Daniels is forced to deal with a series of hateful, racist notes being left for one of the school’s only black students. Most members of the school’s faculty try to distance themselves from the incidents in order to save the school’s public image.
Gilman’s attempt to look into the heart of racism with unflinching honesty has met with mixed reviews since it was first staged. Prominent African-American poet, essayist and novelist Ishmael Reed considered it to be clumsy and racist. However, the show’s
director, Rose Wasielewski, says that Gilman’s drama speaks to a universal perspective on the nature of racism. The school’s administration represents established notions of society that the younger generation struggles to change.
“There is this sense of ‘The Man’ looking down on the little people, or not understand ing that not everyone and everything fits into a box,” Wasielewski says. If nothing else, productions of Spinning Into Butter continue to keep the dialogue open, which may be especially crucial in a city like Milwaukee.
“We live in the second most segregated city in the nation,” says Pink Banana founder Juanita Cordova. “There is so much anger on all sides and, in my opinion, there just seems to be little to no discussion or effort toward progression.”
One of the biggest obstacles for the technical success of the Pink Banana production may be an age difference: The cast skews younger while the play features many older characters. But Wasielewski is confident in her cast. “We have an extremely talented group of actors working on this production,” she says. “From the get-go the cast was completely onboard with the message of the play and vision that I had for it. They all seem to be empowered by the intricacies of the play and want to do it justice within their roles.”
Pink Banana’s production of Spinning Into Butter runs July 17–26 at the Tenth Street Theatre.