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Stage Door: The Submission

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The Submission at the Lucille Lortel Theater, should submit to reality: There is nothing at stake in this faux drama. And the premise is dated: The Humana Festival accepts a play by Shaleeha G'ntamobi about a black mother and son in the projects. It's moving. It's important. And it's -- gasp! -- written by Danny, a gay white man. Given the rigid PC mores of commercial theater, suggests playwright Jeff Talbott, the white man (Jonathan Groff) has to substitute a suitable black woman, Emilie (Rutina Wesley), to deem its authorship credible.

What begins as a business arrangement between Danny and Emilie quickly degenerates into a shouting match. He resents her nasty remarks and dismissive attitudes about gay men. She dislikes his mantra that all hatred is equal, insisting the prejudice a black woman encounters is qualitatively different from homophobia.

This could be interesting -- if the dialogue wasn't so smug and the participants so self-serving. Plus, their verbal volleys will inevitably escalate; the script artificially primes the audience for the big moment -- when they call each other "nigger" and "faggot." The problem is, Emilie hurls insults at Danny, when he responds in kind, she takes umbrage. Her hypocrisy is as annoying as the phony plot.

Frankly, it would be far more impressive -- if society's stated goal is racial harmony -- to posit art as transcendent. If a white man writes an important play about black people, is it less valuable once his identity is known? That's the question The Submission should have debated, kick-starting an honest dialogue on the nature of race, theater and preconceived notions of liberal acceptance.

Is it possible that whites and blacks can understand and appreciate each other despite their circumstances? No one denies that racial differences matter -- or that PC cultural appraisals can be problematic. The Submission barely wrestles with real concerns; its 20something characters (with Eddie Kay Thomas as Danny's devoted lover and Will Rogers as his monosyllabic friend) are too one-dimensional and trying. Less whining and more insight would have helped.

A year ago, David Mamet's Race tackled racial issues, noting that people are rarely honest about their true feelings -- and that everyone is subject to fear and racism -- on both sides of the divide. What Mamet acknowledged, The Submission ignores. As a result, it misses the larger ethos of art: Understanding and empathy should be color-blind. If they aren't, we're all in trouble.