Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Towson University students, faculty and staff faced challenges to core beliefs about race, religion, gender and class on Wednesday from the most unlikely place – a play.
“Defamation” is a fictional play written by Todd Logan and directed by Scott Phelps. The entire play takes place inside of a Chicago courtroom, where Regina Wade, a black woman, is suing Arthur Golden, a Jewish real estate developer, for falsely accusing her of stealing a watch that had been in the Golden family for three generations. She said she lost her job and business, a true burden during the country’s harsh economic recession. Golden allegedly accused Wade of theft in 2009, and three years later, Wade charges defamation and sues for $500,000 in damages.
About 60 people gathered near the small stage in the University Union and watched the play’s six actors and actresses perform. Judge Barnes, in an authoritative yet witty manner, began with a monologue to announce the civil suit: Wade V Golden. Already the ironies were obvious. Wade, the black woman, was represented by a white male lawyer. The Jewish businessman, on the other hand, had an African-American female lawyer.
By the end of the play, Judge Barnes told the audience to act as the jury and decide who won the case. For 40 minutes, the audience was forced to discuss the highly charged issues of race, religion, gender and class.
One intense discussion focused on “preference vs. prejudice.” It was based on a scene during the play when Golden was painted as a racist because he attempted to get an inter-Jewish marriage bill passed. The bill would have forced Jewish people to marry within their religion. Most in the audience sided with Golden.
Fatima Beri, a junior at Towson, said he left with a deeper understanding of bias.
“I enjoyed the discussion, especially where they discussed the differences between prejudice versus preference,” Beri said. “And I realized it’s hard to put your biases away when viewing people solely on their character.”
Eventually, the audience voted by a landslide in favor of Regina Wade, and rewarded her the half million dollars.“I’m hoping to spark uncomfortable conversation for progress with how we deal with each other in regards to race as a myth and social concept… and whiteness as an idea,” said Will McFadden, who played Wade’s lawyer.
McFadden, who has only been on the tour a couple of weeks, has performed in such films as “Takers” and “Repo Men,” and such television shows are ABC’s “Castle,” CBS’s “Scorpion” and Fox’s “Gang Related.”
Actress Risha Tenae, who has been on the “Defamation” tour since 2014, played the plaintiff, Regina Wade. Besides performing in several theatrical plays, Tenae also teaches art in K-12 schools in Los Angeles.
“I’m hoping this play will start the conversation and begin dialogue,” Tenae said. “But it’s a hard and difficult conversation to have especially during these political times.”
Apparently the play’s goal had the expected impact.
“I like the fact that in the end the judge made you choose a side,” said Rylie Dufresne, a third-year Towson student who liked the idea of forcing the audience to make a decision.
The Towson University Center for Student Diversity sponsored Canamac Productions, a nationally acclaimed rotating traveling theatre team that has been performing “Defamation” since 2010. It began in Evanston, Ill. The Defamation Experience is currently on a 50-show tour for the fall.
“I would recommend this play to everyone because its conversation that should’ve been had a century ago, and it should be required for everyone, not just public universities,” Dufresne said.