By JOHN FLEMING
Skin tone is the subject of Yellowman, the Dael Orlandersmith play that was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and opens tonight in a Jobsite Theater production. Set in a small South Carolina town, the two-actor play is about the romance of Eugene and Alma. Though both are black, Eugene's skin is lighter than Alma's, and that raises questions about prejudice within the African-American community.
Orlandersmith acknowledged in a 2002 interview that her play would be controversial, with its theme of lighter skin color being favored over darker.
"Any time you talk about race, it's a risky thing," she said. "This one is tough, it's a volatile subject. But I'm here to be a mental and emotional traveler, and I'm not here to necessarily be a crowd-pleaser. People need to understand that this is a story, not the story."
Jobsite is taking an unconventional approach by casting Fanni Green and Jim Wicker to play Alma and Eugene, as well as other characters. While Green is black, Wicker is white.
"I pondered this casting a great deal,'' director Karla Hartley said. "It was not for lack of trying, because I saw a lot of black men read for the play, but in the end you have to go with the best actor. Fanni and Jim just match up very well. And the fact is, there is a great expanse of coloring in the African-American community. The dynamics of race are ever-present in Yellowman, and I think this casting is profoundly interesting.''
Wicker is a familiar presence on bay area stages, playing roles as disparate as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Polonius in Hamlet and Orson Welles in Orson's Shadow. Green, who was in the cast of the 1991 Broadway production of Mule Bone, a play by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, teaches theater at USF.
Yellowman opens tonight and runs through March 27 at the Shimberg Playhouse of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. $24.50, with $10 rush tickets available to students, military and seniors a half-hour before curtain. (813) 229-7827; strazcenter.org.