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Vanguard tackles racial issues

Published (Volume 76, No. 8)

Vanguard Theatre’s current production leads the audience through a complicated maze of racial themes and problems, leaving them Spinning Into Butter.

Directed by Ken Zimmerman, Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning Into Butter slowly grows into a deep and unusually honest examination of racism on a small, mostly white, college campus in Vermont. With each scene, the play gains gravity, building into an undeniable glimpse into the problems of political correctness, half-hearted attempts to address race on the college scene and all of our natural impulses towards racism and towards its denial.

The seriousness of Vanguard’s latest production doesn’t cover up its oftentimes comical moments. The audience on opening night laughed out loud and watched in silence while listening to soliloquies on the “collective sigh of white guilt” at your typical ‘race forum.’ The play doesn’t shy away from these uncomfortable topics, rather it delves into them from a fresh perspective that you can’t help being drawn into.

Lead by the exceptional acting of freshman Jennifer Horbert, who plays the torn role of Dean of Students Sarah Daniels, the cast comes together to form a believable group of white members of the college ‘establishment.’ The portrayal of Ross Collins by Jonathan Roos comes across as the overly-intellectual and sometimes bumbling art professor. India Simerson clearly portrays the appearance-oriented Dean of Student Affairs Catherine Kenney and Christian Ashlar’s Dean Burton Strauss drips with upperclass condescention. Jay Campbell gives us the dopey yet charmingly wise security guard Mr. Meyers, Chris James provides the frustrated role of the “New Yorican” Patrick Chibas and Brendan Lambert plays the fraternity boy, future law student and college senior Greg Sullivan.

What makes this play special isn’t that it deals with the difficult subject of racism, but how it deals with it. The plot revolves loosely around a terrible, ongoing, racial incident in the dorms involving a black student.

As the incidents increase in severity and brutality, these characters are forced, in one way or another, to face the realities of racism. Some find it within themselves, some look for ways to cover it up, and all look for their own ways, private and personal, to deal with it.

The results are more complicated than the problems they began with.

The administration of Belmont could be any all-white administration around the country, and the feelings of guilt, anger, denial and fear represent the feelings of people everywhere, whatever color they happen to be.

Complete with bulleted lists to solve racism, open forums attended only by white students to discuss ‘diversity,’ loudmouth professors that spend more time defending themselves than leading discussion, and ignored minority students along with blamed white students, Spinning Into Butter sheds light on the issue from so many angles that you can’t walk away with any simple answer. You might, however, walk away thinking about an issue that is so often ignored for the sake of tranquility.
“People ignore substance for appearance,” says Simerson,  “and I think that a lot of people say that if it looks OK, we accept it as OK and don’t bother to look deeper into the problem.”

“Certain phrases, force us, as a society, to focus on the things that divide us,” says Christian Ashlar. “Until we begin to see everyone as ‘human beings,’ there will be a need for plays like this.”

Spinning Into Butter will be showing at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Fine Arts Building. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for everyone else.