Is a rich white male unqualified to write about a poor black female? Does the writer of a novel, film or play need to be of the same racial, ethnic or sexual background as his characters in order to write about them truthfully?
“The Submission,” the debut play by actor Jeff Talbott, directly takes on this issue. Even if the plotting is contrived, it provokes debate about unconscious racism and homophobia.
Danny (Jonathan Groff), a playwright in his late 20s who can’t get his shows produced, writes a drama about an alcoholic black mother trying to escape an urban ghetto and her card-dealing son.
Fearful that no one will take the play seriously if they know it’s been written by a white gay male, he submits it to the Humana Festival of New American Plays under the pseudonym of a black female.
When the play is selected by the festival for a full production, Danny tries to keep up the ruse by hiring Emilie (Rutina Wesley), a black actress, to pose as the author.
Tensions mount between Danny and Emilie, who is offended by Danny’s theory that he can empathize with the black community based on his experience as a gay man. In the penultimate scene, they come to blows.
The play starts off well thanks to the intriguing setup, but turns into a clichéd rehash of a David Mamet drama full of profanity and violent impulses.
Groff makes a convincing transition from a charming writer to someone with an angry dark side. Eddie Kaye Thomas and Will Rogers, who play Danny and Emilie’s respective love interests, are left with little to do but look on uncomfortably. Rather like the audience.
If you go: “The Submission” plays at the Lucille Lortel Theatre through Oct. 22, 212-352-3101.