Expect “White Guy on the Bus” to open eyes and open discussion. It does not provide answers, but it does raise a lot of questions.
This one-act play deals heavily with themes such as black oppression, inequality and racial tension. Its setting is modern-day Philadelphia, the fourth most racially segregated city in America. Two people from this divided city meet, and their lives become intertwined in interesting ways.
Bryan Ferriter, a 31-year-old UF acting master’s student, plays a white, wealthy businessman named Ray from a rich neighborhood called Mainline.
“Ray lives in his own bubble. He is a successful man on paper and has a loving wife and family, but through certain circumstances he twists through this dark, dark parth,” Ferriter said. “His journey becomes a vicious and tragic cycle for everyone involved.”
Shatique is a black nursing student and single mother from a poor neighborhood, played by Akieba Allen, a 29-year-old UF acting master’s student.
Shatique rides the bus every day to work, but this is the first time she meets Ray, whose motives are ambiguous.
Malcolm Gets, Tony Award nominee and director of the play, chose to get involved with the production because of the initial fears it evoked and its nonlinear plot.
He credits the cast for being supportive of each other due to the sensitive issues the play touches upon.
“We try to create a safe space as possible and dig into the subject matter,” Gets said. “This [play] reflects the world today - a unique and challenging point in history.”
Gets’ interpretation of “White Guy on the Bus” is meant to encompass Ray’s world, which becomes both a nightmare and a dream as he is confronted by people in his past.
“The purpose of playing is to hold the mirror up to nature,” Gets said. “Even if the audience doesn’t want to admit it, they are likely to identify with any of the characters.”
Elise Selah, a 26-year-old UF acting master’s student, plays Roz, Ray’s wife, and a dedicated teacher at an inner-city school.
Selah said she wanted to play this character because she likes that Roz is strong, straightforward and challenges people. The actress’s charming, bubbly personality changes when she gets into character.
“It was challenging at first to find what we share together. But I’ve found that what we share is trying to expand people’s minds and give other perspectives,” Selah said. “Her heart for students is really where I identify with Roz.”
Allen says one of the main lessons she has learned from the play is that reality and perception are not always the same.
“How open are we to see from the other perspective?” Allen said. “How willing are we to confront what can possibly be true?”
The first showing of the “White Guy on the Bus” is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre. The play will run from March 21 through March 31.
There will be talk-back sessions after some of the performances to facilitate conversations about themes from the play.