Virtual Spring Play, “Separate ≠ Equal,” addresses racial injustice through entertaining performances

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CONTRIBUTED BY ELEANOR BERGSTEIN

“Separate ≠ Equal” was made up of a compilation of short plays, each with its own message.

From a young girl singing about water guns to Canada mediating an International Roast of the United States, the Virtual Spring Play kept viewers engaged through a broad variety of ever-unexpected mediums.

“Separate ≠ Equal,” performed on Thursday, March 11 and Friday, March 12, is a compilation of short plays that focus on racial justice. With powerful scenes and funny jokes, the BHS Drama Society put together a zoom performance that was both entertaining and informative.

Five out of the 10 plays were adapted from Idris Goodwin’s “Free Plays” collection, while the other half were written by the cast and crew. The cast members were well suited to the roles they were playing, and many actors portrayed more than one character.

The show opened with an original play called “Well Done, America!,” during which several actors represented different countries that made fun of the United States at an International Roast. The countries, which included Panama, South Korea, South Africa, China and the U.K., targeted the U.S. by cracking crude jokes about the country’s internal problems. For example, one line made fun of how America considers itself to be the Land of the Free, while another attacked citizens’ purchases of bedsheets, suggesting that they’re often used for terrorist organizations. The skit had a lighthearted feel to it, which was magnified by the laugh track that rang out after any country delivered a particularly witty line. It was impressive that the cast and crew, along with their co-writer, senior Christine Kennedy, were able to turn such serious issues into comedic punchlines.

The plays written by Idris Goodwin were especially captivating, as they tackled issues of racial inequality from unique angles.

One of the standout performances came in “The Water Gun Song,” a scene centered around a young girl, Sam (senior Anoushka Malik) and her mother (junior Sammy Yee). Malik’s portrayal of Sam was perfect, showcasing the ignorance of youth surrounding difficult issues. Malik knew when to play into the trope of a young and innocent child, and when to dial down on the energy as the conversation became more and more serious.

At her friend’s house, Sam played with water guns, a toy that her mother does not allow her to have. Sam and her mother have a conversation about guns, and why the color of Sam’s skin may make it more likely that an adult makes harmful assumptions about her. This story gives a specific perspective on the influences of racism in childhood. Each scene in “Separate ≠ Equal” showcases a different way racial injustice affects our society.

Another standout play was “Black Flag,” also written by Idris Goodwin. This play follows the story of two college roommates, Sydney (sophomore Abigail Mokady) and Deja (senior Alex Murray), after Sydney hangs a confederate flag on the wall of their dorm room. This play showcased the versatility of the actors who starred in it. Notably, Mokady impressively tackled a clearly ignorant and oblivious character and managed to portray Sydney with empathy and true human feelings.

Characters Sydney and Deja, played by Abigail Mokady and Alex Murray, discuss a conflict involving the hanging of a confederate flag. (CONTRIBUTED BY ELEANOR BERGSTEIN)

The cast and crew utilized virtual backgrounds and sound effects to set the scene and enhance their performance. These aspects of the show were highlighted in “Targeted,” a play about the aftermath of an Asian-American hate crime enacted on a grandmother (junior Sammy Yee) who heals in a hospital. The sounds of a heart monitor and hospital room backgrounds allowed for the short Zoom skit to be truly immersive. The thought-out set design also included flashes of newspaper headlines detailing the targeting of the Asian community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the most expertly crafted moments of the play was the seamless transition between the skits “Targeted” and “#matter.” While the former ended, the sound of the heart monitor could still be heard and with each beep a new hashtag was displayed on the black screen. The slogans included #RacialJustice, #YourVoiceMatters and #BLM. Finally, the title of the final performance, “#matter,” appeared on the screen. This transition connected the plays and helped viewers gain a better understanding of the themes of the show.

Although an entirely virtual performance posed some technical hurdles the cast and crew had to overcome, the characters and scenes were still vividly brought to life. There were some technical issues that are to be expected out of any online event, but they did not take away from the messages of the show.

“Separate ≠ Equal” offered a beautiful and insightful commentary on the issues and conversations surrounding racism in our world today. Leaving this performance, one is both impressed by the expertise of the actors and impacted by the topics touched upon in the play. While it’s disappointing the play was performed over a computer screen, it’s a must-see for anyone willing to learn and grow with a few laughs along the way. The show prompts its viewers to be willing to have difficult conversations about racial justice in their own lives and continue self-educating long after the virtual curtain closes.