In one of Chicago’s wealthiest hospitals, a white doctor tries to remove a black receptionist by enlisting her colleague as a spy. The women’s friendship quickly deteriorates, and a chilling power struggle ensues. With the office becoming a battleground of passive aggression and paranoia, things spin wildly out of control.
Joel Drake Johnson’s incendiary timely new play examines underlying racism in the workplace, white guilt and the manipulation of women by men in power. Rasheeda Speaking is a shocking dark comedy that keeps the audience in its claustrophobic grip until the final moment, proving that nothing in Middle America is ever truly black or white.
We spoke to Joel Drake Johnson to find out more.
Your play Rasheeda Speaking is coming to Trafalgar Studios, what can you tell us about it?
It’s a play about our inability to treat individual people as they are, and our tendency to treat them according to what we know or what we’ve been told. And, our tendency to separate ourselves from others, be it unconsciously. Jaclyn, a black woman, has not received the same treatment as others in life and has had to work harder than others to get where she is so it’s also a play about both racial and male privilege.
What inspired you to write it?
I was going to the doctor and the woman who helped me when I was first there was a black woman named Caroline who was very rude and got me very upset, and so when I left the office I complained to the doctor, and he said this was a good reason to finally get rid of her. I felt really bad about it and ended up writing a play about this woman trying to figure out who she was and what she was.
How does it feel having one of your plays debut in London’s West End?
I am incredibly excited. I love London and England. I think they have the greatest theatre in the world and I’m going to be a part of it! I didn’t think it would ever happen and here it is.
Rasheeda Speaking was very well received in Chicago, what do you think London audiences will make of the American setting?
I don’t quite know what happening in London with different communities. In the USA it’s very separate, it’s like “this is where we are, this is where you are”. So, depending on the relationships between the different communities, the show could be received differently.
It’s a dark comedy, how do you go about balancing the comedy with the heavier themes?
I think I just do it by getting to know the characters in my head and then letting them do what they need to do as the characters I’ve created. It’s funny, I wrote this play really quickly because all the parts just solidified really quickly and were just there somehow. I also drew on my experiences with real people where the relationship balanced the two.
What do you hope the London cast and creatives will bring to Rasheeda Speaking?
English actors are so fantastic, they know how to be so real. It’s only my fourth time visiting but every time I’ve come I’ve seen plays and the actors always seem to be so true to the material. I’m hoping they’ll make the audience look at themselves, and then look around themselves, and try to figure out what everyone is about so we can understand one another better.