Playwright Ruben Carrazana is prepared to offend you. Maybe he already has. His new play, Stacy Has a Thing for Black Guys, has some theatergoers a little uncomfortable. The thing is: they haven’t even seen it yet.
This is the current dilemma for The Tribe, a theater collective made up of young Dallas artists, musicians, actors, directors, and producers. The Tribe’s purpose is to help produce each other’s work and give voice to emerging artists who might not otherwise have the opportunity. Tribe member Janielle Kastner recently had her full-length play, Ophelia Underwater, produced — a project she’d been workshopping for years without a proper venue.
Ophelia Underwater is a pretty safe title, one that gives the potential audience no reason to panic, really. So what if the title was something like Stacy Has a Thing for Black Guys, which will open at the Latino Cultural Center this weekend? Carrazana says getting past the title has been a bit of a challenge, both in getting the play funded and for fellow artists.
“People are going to find this title offensive. That was intentional,” Carrazana says. “I want the audience to be forced to see through this lens colored by race, gender, and sexual politics, and how we are so incapable of talking about those things.” He says even though he wanted to get a response out of people, he was surprised by the way he found himself talking about his own play, sometimes just referring to it as Stacy, depending on the conversation.
Carrazana says he was encouraged many times to change the title.
“I’m very aware of the historical legacy of racism,” he says. “But the context of of the play and the title plays on that idea. It needs to be called this.”
Stacy Has A Thing For Black Guys follows a couple whose marriage and years of lies are dissected over a glass of lemonade with a visitor. The satirical dialogue covers race, sex, and romance in contemporary America, in brazenly graphic terms.
Producer and Tribe member Dylan Key says the play is purposefully subversive. And that can be a little scary. He says it’s very encouraging that the play was funded through grants from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs and The Oak Cliff Cultural Center.
Controversy over titles is not new to the theater world. The New York Times somewhat infamously renamed Mike Bartlett’s play Cock as The Cockfight Play in a review. (Second Thought Theatre produced that play in 2014.) These titles, of course, are meant to get your attention.
Carrazana says he does find himself sometimes cringing at his own scenes when he sees them onstage. The play deals with sensitive sexual topics and at times can get very real. This, of course, is the beauty of pushing boundaries, he says.
“There’s a point where the woman says what she wants, sexually, and that kind of makes us uncomfortable. But why? This discomfort is even coming from the women seeing it [in rehearsals]. This makes me not want to change the title even more,” Carrazana says. “I want to push back when that happens. Why are we so afraid to talk about these things?” He says anyone has a right to be offended by the title or the play, but it’s not his job to coddle the audience.
“People are going to find this title offensive. That was intentional.”Playwright Ruben Carrazana
‘Why were you offended? Look at yourself and see what it reveals,” he says. “Isn’t it more about you? No one has the right to say ‘Stop offending me.’” This is exactly why The Tribe exists, Carrazana says. To produce work that matters to the artists, often challenging what makes us comfortable.
Key says the play deals largely with the “artifice of intimacy ,” which he and Carrazana attribute partially to the advance of technology. Honey and Sweetie, the couple at the heart of the play, are faced with an obstacle in their marriage. Carrazana says he was fascinated with the idea of how readily available all things are now due to technology: “food, information, sex — all of these things are at our fingertips.”
The play is a comedy, but Carrazana still wants the audience to hold up the mirror he feels all good theater should provide. In this case it might be more of a funhouse mirror. Carrazana and Key both felt there was an unrealistic standard placed on relationships, a “bourgeois shape,” as Key calls it, that dictates what we should all strive to achieve. Real life, he says, is more messy and complicated.
Carrazana himself is interested in your car ride home.
“Maybe someone will come and enjoy a free drink and have a pleasant evening, and that will be it,” he says. “But maybe the person they’re going home with will hate it and want to talk about it all. I’ve certainly been in that car before.”