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Play on colorism showing at Billie Holiday theatre

In the play “Yellowman,” light-skinned Eugene, left, and dark-skinned Alma, come to terms with colorism over the span of their childhood into adulthood. The play is showing at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Bedford-Stuyvesant until May 20.
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A production of the Pulitzer prize finalist play “Yellowman,” is playing at Billie Holiday Theatre in Bedford-Stuyvesant until May 20. The story follows the skinny and light-complexioned Eugene, and the larger and darker complexioned Alma, as they grow from a platonic friendship to a romantic relationship in the deep South. As its name suggests, the play tackles skin complexion — particularly through colorism and how they affect both characters respectively.

The perception of skin tone remains somewhat of a taboo issue in many black communities today, but this play gives a magnifying eye to those issues and viewers will easily relate to it, said the play’s director.

“Within the black community — colorism is still prevalent so there is a joy, recognition, and relief and the feeling of “It’s not just me thinking that,” which is what black audiences will experience watching this,” said Timothy Douglas.

He says often the subject is simply observed or discussed between families. But this play shines a light on colorism for wider audiences.

“In this climate, this play also speaks to black and white relationships and how an individual’s ability to self-identify with a skin complexion can determine how smooth their journey in America will be,” said Douglas. “It’s black specific but white audiences will get it — because it parallels with issues of racism.”

In the two-cast member production, both main characters are also playing other characters, which include their parents and relatives, according to Douglas.

The play concludes with a somewhat daunting ending, where both characters lives are forever changed by one action. But Douglas said it can be interpreted differently, and the play has several tidbits of comedy that help swallow some of the heavy content.

“It’s cathartic to witness the journey and spirit of these two people,” he said. “It’s sad and unresolved and after their journey people are left to determine what happens next. But there’s lots of humor, which is necessary because the more tragic life is, it is essential that we never lose the ability to laugh.

Douglas said this show is a perfect segue for a more reflective conversation on colorism, and can help lead to self-examination and the unpacking of harmful attitudes.

“The frontline is that people are talking about it because it’s not usually spoken about in polite conversati­on,” he said. “But just being able to connect and share on the subject also gives life, and can lead people to thinking differently or start conversation that brings people close together.”

“Yellowman” at The Billie Holiday Theatre [1368 Fulton St. between Brooklyn and New York avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, (718) 636-0918, www.thebillieholiday.org]. Running until May 20 at various times. $25 - $65.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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