Charleston Post and Courier
from Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Charleston City Paper
from Wednesday, May 30, 2001

The State
from Friday, April 6, 2001


The Power of Storytelling

The White Problem tells the fiction of history

from Charleston City Paper
Wednesday, May 30, 2001


The White Problem, produced by the University of South Carolina Bicentennial Committee, deserved more than the small but appreciative audience that applauded it opening night. Pitted against the Virginia Rodrigues concert at the Cistern and a renegade cell phone in the Physicians Auditorium, this intimate portrayal of a pivotal figure in South Carolina history, Richard Greener, prevailed as one of the most provocative offerings of the Piccolo Festival.

The performance was carried by the powerful text of South Carolina playwright Jon Tuttle. Tuttle was commissioned to compose the piece for the University of South Carolina (USC) Bicentennial Celebration. Its subject, Richard Greener, was the first African American to teach as a professor at USC post-Reconstruction. He was also the first African American to graduate with honors from Harvard. Tuttle blends the historical biography of Greener with that of his contemporaries and offers imaginative parallels to canonized figures like Michelangelo, Goethe, and Pushkin. In the process the play resonates on historical, literary and personal levels.

The dramatic staging has Greener addressing an academic audience, and the assumption of Tuttle's text and director Greg Leevy's elegant staging is that this audience is an intelligent one. Tuttle exploits the rhetorical exchange of ideological statements, and Leevy paces them in rapid deliberation. The subject matter moves in swift, clean exchanges, from the repercussions of Greener's personal sacrifices to the debate between African American empowerment either being the responsibility of great men or the priority of the working class.

The play shifts from personal perspective to objective and subjective interpretations of events with nimble technique. It is the kind of work that stimulates the intellect, letting imagination take a more passive route to fleshing out the theatrical illusion.

That illusion is helped by the seamless performance of actor David Wiles in the title role. Wiles seems to bury any sense of self in the academic robes designed by Arpina Makarian. His presence on the stage is that of an accomplished orator, as much at ease as an actor as Greener must have been as a lecturer.

He is joined onstage by Darion McCloud, who meets the challenge of playing multiple characters with ample success. Using simple gestures and a variety of vocal accents and intonations, McCloud is able to completely redefine himself in terms of class and racial information.

Leevy has staged a work uncluttered by technical effect. Instead, the production relies on the spoken word and the power of storytelling to create the fiction that is our history. Or the history that has become our fiction. In a master stroke Tuttle lifts Greener’s name from anonymity and links it with other names yet anonymous. Furthermore, he allows us a glimpse at the man behind the historical figure and reveals his heroism not in his class or race or gender, but in his humanity.

This production should appeal to anyone interested in South Carolina history, an even broader historical scope, issues of civil rights, or the theatre as an intelligent examination of the human being. But it should also appeal to those looking for simple stagings, fine acting, or a story that is worth being told.

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The Board of Trustees
University of South Carolina

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