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Theatre Tue Aug 17 2010

The Black Jew Dialogues

Thumbnail image for BJD.jpg

Photo courtesy of: Eric Wells

The relationship among African-Americans and Jewish people has long been mired in complexities and tumult; from slavery and Holocaust comparisons to media relations, the history of these two groups has served as a major discussion about racism.

In The Black Jew Dialogues, directed by Margaret Ann Brady, the ups and downs of the black-Jew dynamic, and racism in general, are explored. Here, actors Larry Jay Tish and Ron Jones discuss the importance of having open, honest dialogue about race in America and why it should continue.

How did the two of you meet and how was the idea for this play conceived?

Jones: We were hired to be pirates at a furniture store. It was an acting gig where the store had an interactive virtual game and we were the actors that carried people through the adventure. Tish had the idea for the show and he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it.

Tish: I had the title in my head and I wanted to do something to bring people together, especially following 9/11 and the division that was happening then. As an artist, I wanted to do something more to bring people to the table to have dialogue and I wanted to explore the black- Jewish relationship which had been fizzling a bit over the years. I knew it would be just a two-man show with multiple characters, though. We spent a few weekends at a hotel called the Plantation Inn in Massachusetts, locked ourselves away, and just began to write. This was four and a half years ago.

Tell us about The Black Jew Dialogues--what will we see?

Jones: The show is a journey of two men in a hotel room trying to figure out how to write a show about this subject. As we move through the process, we break into sketches and scenes that illustrate this.

The description of the play notes that it explores the "absurdity of prejudice and racism within the context of the American Black-Jew experience." What are examples of some of those absurdities?

Jones: One way we illustrate the absurdities is through a couple of redneck characters--guys who are filled with hate and ignorance that are ready to kick the a---- of any blacks or Jews they come across. As they continue to talk about how much they hate blacks and Jews, the more they talk, the more they uncover their own ignorance. They are torn by their inner conflict and take it out on the world.

Tish: Another sketch we have is called, "The ONE " (One N----- Everywhere) Program, which is about black people breaking down the fear that white people have about them. "ONE" is a privately-funded program that puts black people in every white neighborhood in the country so they are not so afraid of them, showing the absurdity of the fear of them. Ron plays this really over the top character that's just joyful and happy--

Jones: Well, not really joyful and happy... As an emissary of this ONE program, I play a character that really is stereotypically white. The whole theme of this sketch is that the reason white people are afraid of [us] is that they never really get a chance to get to know us. This character has been sent out there in these white neighborhoods to give the healthy exposure to black folks that you just don't get.

Tish: We reveal the absurdities by showing truths. Comedy at its apex is revealing truth. It's funny, but it's true.

Jones: After the show, we always have a discussion. That's a huge piece of what we do. We are giving them the example to put all their feelings out on the table and deal with them in a healthy way--and that way is through laughter.

What you're describing is what I've learned lately, which is, if you can get people to laugh, you can get them to listen.

Both: Exactly.

Tish: Yes. If you're laughing with someone else, it creates a comfort zone.

Racism is a hot-button topic that has seemingly heightened since Barack Obama became President. What are your thoughts about this?

Tish: This comes up a lot in our [post show] discussions. [His presidency] opened up the can of worms in a sense and seems like a catalyst to give us permission to talk about race more openly.

Jones: I think the election of Barack Obama has brought the conversation to the surface in ways it never could have been otherwise. The sad reality, which is what we're trying to fight against, I believe, is that there are so many people who embody a fundamental fear of this new era of American history.

The 60s gave way to the Black Power movement and caused a shift among black and Jew relations; in the end, for blacks, it all came down to simply a skin color issue. Does the play address this turning point?

Jones: Not really. We do talk about the unity and in the beginning of the play we have slides and rhetoric that we use to show how blacks and Jews came together, but we don't address the separation. I am happy to hear you ask that because I think a lot of black people don't want to take responsibility for the fact that we were the ones who basically pushed the Jews aside.

In 1984, Reverend Jesse Jackson caught a lot of flak for his "hymie"/"Hymietown" remarks; the comedic route you've taken with this play brings to mind the old Eddie Murphy "Saturday Night Live" skit that brought light to the issue.

Tish: We've been called "The Chappelle Show with a conscience." People often ask us, "Where do you draw the line?" Our line is where Ron and I find meaning in the comedy we're trying to present. We are two comedic performers who have laid out what we think is the truth.

Do you still learn something new each time out or after each performance?

Tish: I'm always surprised when people are standing and laughing. I am always amazed at how much people like the show. I am inspired by the people who stand up after our shows and share their honesty and feelings.

What message(s) do you hope audiences take away from The Black Jew Dialogues?

Jones: We hope to have people reach a level of commonality through the fact that we all have shared pain and hurt. The specifics of it might not be equal, but the hurt is just that. And we all grow from it.

Tish: In a way, the show is a call to action. When you see something you think might be racist or intolerant, we hope you find the courage to take some action. That's something we definitely like to leave the audience with.

The Black Jew Dialogues begins its fifth season at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Friday, Aug. 20 and Saturday, Aug. 21, both shows at 8pm. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online or by contacting the theater box office. For more information, call 773-404-7336.

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sara / February 24, 2012 3:02 PM

I attended this show. It was supposed to be a comedy culture diversity kind of educational against racism. But guess what! It was the opposite at the end they were stereotyping all nationalities, religions and color.. That was not funny
Literally, they were asking what are the stereotypes for mexicans. then stereotyping muslims, and finally chinese. I regret attending it. Its humiliating to everyone to come down to this low talk.

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