This time last year, the cast and crew of A Midsummer Night’s Dream were deep in production. Due to COVID-19, Concord Academy’s long standing tradition of a fall and winter mainstage was altered. This year, the performing arts department decided to hold two mainstages, as per usual, but during the winter and spring sports seasons instead. Back in April, an email came out announcing the two mainstages for the 2020-2021 school year: Pride and Prejudice in the winter, and Chicago in the spring. The plan was scrapped as the 2020-2021 theater season is presumed to be entirely virtual. With the changing American political and cultural landscape, the CA performing arts department decided to replace Pride and Prejudice with Baltimore, a more timely and socially relevant narrative.
The play, written by Kirsten Greenidge, is not actually set in Baltimore. Rather, it’s set at a college, most likely a New England liberal arts school. It follows a cast of students, who are mostly Black and white, with a few notable exceptions. The play’s main conflict happens when one white student draws an obscene racially-targeted portrait of one of her Black classmates on her dorm room door.
Baltimore can be loosely categorized as an ensemble piece. If one was to choose the main character, it would most likely be Shelby, only because the show begins and ends with her. Shelby represents an antithesis to the play’s driving conflicts: she is a Black student who believes that she lives in a post-racial world. She is unimpressed by the college’s hiring of a Black-Hispanic dean and suspicious of an administration hyper-focused on diversity. Shelby refuses to get involved in the main conflict of the show—the vulgar portrait. Much like Shelby, Bryant is an example of Greenidge’s comfort with writing naive BIPOC characters. Bryant’s girlfriend, Fiona, is the perpetrator of our campus crime. Conflicted by his morals and attraction to Fiona, Bryant defends her and refuses to break up with her. Other characters in the show criticize his “responsibility” to the Black community, telling him that Fiona uses him as a prop—a Black accessory. It’s an interesting dynamic that Greenidge presents, having Black characters of both sides of the issue. Other characters weave their way into the crevices of the conflict, taking their own stances.
Throughout the play, Fiona, the one who drew the picture, is adamant that it was a joke. When Fiona is introduced, she can be brazenly described as an aspiring Black person. Her response to all criticism is that it was a joke. She refuses to acknowledge the impact, shielding it with her shady intent. In the third act, every prominent character is together in one room. It’s a blaze of rapid dialogue, loosely catapulted slurs, and explosive tension. It all culminates in Fiona saying one last time that it was just a joke. Fiona’s character is an exploration of intention vs. impact. Greenidge’s expertise comes in her use of character as a theme. In Baltimore, theme is more important than character. She uses her characters as a vessel to try to connect some of these themes, with each one meant to take a side and provide some insight into their perspectives on race. The play, mostly dialogue, uses long monologues and conversations—vignettes of a racial portrait.
Greenidge is set to visit the cast and crew during their rehearsal process. It’s an amazing opportunity for CA students to work with the playwright. They have a chance to embody Greenidge’s truest intentions for the piece. With her guidance, I see Baltimore being the most honest show CA has yet to produce.