The Unmentionables by Bruce Norris

Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 5:00 pm to Saturday, October 26, 2013, 5:00 pm
This biting comedy by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Clybourne Park is set in contemporary Africa, where four Americans confront the consequences of trying to "do good in the world." By Bruce Norris. Directed by Professor William Peters, artistic director of the Brown Bag Theatre Co. October 17-19 and October 24-26, 8pm. October 20 and October 27, 2pm. $5-$15.
Creative Arts Building, Little Theatre
Theatre Arts Department
SF State Box Office
Event extras: 

Press coverage

Golden Gate Xpress, October 22, 2013


William Peters

Director’s Notes

clueless |ˈklo͞oləs|

adjective informal

having no knowledge, understanding, or ability: you’re clueless about how to deal with the world.

New Oxford American Dictionary

This word captures perfectly the nature of the four American characters in The Unmentionables. Intending only to do good in an (unnamed) African country, they find themselves overwhelmed by political and moral forces beyond their understanding. Unmindful of the toxic residue of paternalistic colonialism, economic predation and cultural arrogance that previous well-meaning Westerners have left in their wake, and unnerved by the pervasive fears of living in a post-9/11 world, Don, Nancy, Jane and Dave are set adrift on a sea of trouble, and begin to drift closer and closer to their individual hearts of darkness.

Bruce Norris, clear-eyed and unsentimental, is very Conrad-like in the ferocity of his vision of the moral complacency of Western adventurers seeking to confront The Other. At the same time, his gaze is equally clear when cast upon Auntie Mimi, the representative of the local administration. She, too, is well meaning—and she, too, is clueless to the damage that the corruptions of power have made to her character.

In The Unmentionables, Norris makes the case that for the vast majority of people in this turbulent world, their moral compasses ultimately consist of half-baked platitudes and vaguely understood historical realities. It is not a comfortable thing to look at, but Norris’ chosen weapon is satire, not polemic, and like all great satirists, he stands beside us and takes the full brunt of his own attack.

“I don’t think I deal at all with many moral or ethical issues in my life. I just dodge them,” he recently said, in an interview published by Playwrights Horizons. “And I come up with crafty excuses for why it’s OK for me to dodge them.”

This participation in his own stories is what makes him a voice worth listening to, and a person worth sharing a laugh with. The saving grace of a satire is that it locates all of its characters on the same slippery slope, and it takes delight in seeing all of them slide toward hell over the slick pavement of their good intentions.

As Dave says, in his own half-baked way, “Don’t jokes supposedly function, in some, I don’t know, therapeutic sense, in a way of confronting, uh, aspects of the unconscious?” It is my hope that this is so that drew me to the play you are about to see tonight.

—William Peters