Manipulation and racism isn’t a good mix in an office, but it is the perfect recipe for the dark comedy “Rasheeda Speaking.”
Rasheeda isn’t even a character in New Venture Theatre’s production of Joel Drake Johnson’s play, which opens on Saturday, March 19, in the LSU Studio Theatre.
“It’s a derogatory name the surgeon uses in place of another word,” director April Louise says. “He refers to all black women like her as ‘Rasheeda,’ but always behind her back.”
Jaclyn is a black receptionist in a surgeon’s office. Fellow receptionist Ileen is white and has been working eight years for the white physician.
“Jaclyn has been working there only six months, and the doctor put Ileen in charge of Jaclyn,” Louise says. “His idea is to have someone watch her in order to push her out of the office.”
The trouble is, Jaclyn, played by Dorrian Wilson, and Ileen, played by Kelly Lockheart, are friends. Or were friends before Ileen was manipulated into betrayal.
Tensions rise as this relationship quickly deteriorates, turning the once cordial workplace into a battlefield of innuendo, paranoia and passive aggression.
“And this show looks at all of these things — racism, friendship, betrayal, manipulation and office politics,” Louise says.
Hard to believe this could be a comedy.
“But it is a comedy,” Louise says. “And it’s very dark. It’s very interesting how this story was put together.”
“Rasheeda Speaking” uses wit to mine the subtleties of “post-racial” America as it explores what people are really saying when they refuse to talk about race.
“You get to see how these people react in this situation,” Louise says. “In office politics, a person who you think is your friend will sometimes betray you to get ahead. But why would someone do that to another person? ‘Rasheeda’ explores that.”
A fellow bus rider eventually tells Jaclyn the doctor’s nickname for her, and Jaclyn confides her pain to Ileen.
“This has been an intense play for us, and there have been many conversations that have developed from the script between the cast and me,” Louise says. “All of the actors researched who their characters might be, and since the play is set in Chicago, the discussions have been good. “
Louise, directed New Venture’s musical “Shout!” in 2015.
“But I’ve never directed just a straight play with no music before this,” Louise says. “It’s different in that we have to depend on the words. We can’t just say, ‘Oh, we can just go from this line straight into a song.’ But the cast is good, and we’re having a good time with it — and we’re looking forward to moving into the beautiful space at LSU. It will be our first time there, and we’re excited about it.”