Whether it's a painting, a poem or a stage play, any work of art can be judged by a single criterion: does it make you think about everyday things in a new way?
"From the Back of the Bus," the Media Unit's national award-winning original play dealing with teenagers and race, does just that as it now plays at the Syracuse Stage Black Box Theater. The 50-minute one-act boldly examines the racial stereotypes and social apathy that dominate daily life in America.
Soon after the cast of four has made its entrance, the young black kid named Malik (played by Evan Rohadfox) makes two poignant points that say it all:
"You know, our ancestors died for the right to vote, and now we don't vote. And our ancestors died so we wouldn't have to sit at the back of the bus, and now we sit at the back of the bus."
In those deftly delivered lines, "Bus" succinctly summarizes two of modern America's biggest problems: voter indifference and the teenage tendency to reject individual responsibility in favor of "back of the bus" group antics.
Group dynamics is one of this play's underlying themes. It asks how does one group view another, and how does an individual person fit in.
The quartet is half black and half white and all image-conscious.
Malik sports a "Hoops Across America" T-shirt. White girl Spike (played by Deborah Orr) wears goth makeup and a Marilyn Manson T. Gerald (played by Joseph Corallo), a self-proclaimed wigger, drapes himself in baggy sweats, a skull-cap and a "Word" necklace. Black urban professional Aquila (played by Tamara Reese) wears preppie duds, khaki slacks and yellow blouse.
The play opens with a somewhat lengthy voice-over by sound designer Sarah Orr playing the part of the bus driver describing the little-known, pre-Rosa Parks incident in which teenager Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat at the front of a Birmingham, Ala. bus and ended up severely beaten by police.