The Echo Theater Company presents a new play exploring racial identity, privilege, and pop culture, in Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies now playing at the Atwater Village Theatre.
The play is written by rising screenwriter Tearrance Arvelle Chisholmand directed by Ahmed Best.
“Hooded uses comedy to bring us into a world where we take a deep, challenging look into race and how we deal with the tragedies of prejudice and stereotype,” says Best. “It builds a world where we can question our perception and beliefs about one another and discover the sameness in our differences.”
The story revolves around Marquis (Jalen K. Stewart), and Tru (Brent Grimes), two 14-year-old Black boys, from different worlds, that collide in the opening scene as Marquis is lying on the floor “Trayvoning”, while Tru looks on in confusion.
Marquis is referencing how his prep school mimicked the Trayvon Martin killing, as he is laid out on the floor with a bag of skittles and an ice tea in front of him.
Marquis reveals he was arrested for “trespassing” with his prep school friends Fielder (Ezekiel Goodman), and Hunter (Vincent Doud) at the local cemetery. When security appears, they run leaving Marquis to be “detained” until he can be released to his guardian.
Marquis is a book smart prep-schooler living in the affluent suburb of Achievement Heights, while Tru is a street savvy kid from deep within the inner city of Baltimore.
We don’t know why Tru has landed in a holding cell, outside from the officer calling him a “bad apple”, but encounters Marquis’ mother, who hurls stereotypical explanations as to why Tru’s mother isn’t able to pick him up. She then takes Tru in on what he calls “some Blindside stuff” referencing the story of NFL player Michael Orr being adopted by well-off community members.
Marquis and Tru bond over Tru’s observation that Marquis isn’t in touch with his “Blackness” as he’s been adopted by White parents.
They begin a journey of Tru penning a how-to manual for Marquis, called “Being Black for Dummies” to walk Marquis through the dark realities of being Black. The manual then falls into the hands of Hunter, who embarks on his quest to “be Black”.
Hunter transforms into a character resembling “Malibu’s Most Wanted” and begins to follow the manual. Testing it out on one his classmates, but after he is rejected by her, he takes his life.
Tru uses the music of 2Pac to teach Marquis, who finds parallels with the Greek philosopher Nietzsche. Tru’s lessons finally pierce Marquis’ psyche, but is it too late?
The play looks at society’s stereotypes of Black culture, and non-Black’s desire to be more “ethnic” and “desired” through the use of social media. How are Black people supposed to talk, think, rationalize situations they are not familiar with?
The play does an excellent job of allowing the audience to think about their own biases when listening to the dialogue between the characters as they explore the difference in Black people in different environments.
The play begins with the audience being instructed to look at the “laugh” monitor, which indicates when you should laugh or be deemed “racist”. Many times the light was flashing to “laugh”, while the audience sat in silence.
Hooded premiered in 2017 in a Mosaic Theatre production at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C., winning the Helen Hayes Award. The production was so successful that it was revived a year later. Writing in the Washington Post, theater critic Nelson Pressley called it “a whip-smart comedy”.
Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies opened March 12, with performances continuing on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 4 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. through April 18.
Tickets are $34 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. All Monday night performances, as well as previews, are pay-what-you-want. Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. On-site parking is free. Proof of full vaccination (including booster shot if eligible) or a negative PCR test within 72 hours and valid ID are required for admission. Patrons must remain fully masked throughout the performances. For reservations and information, call (310) 307-3753 or go to www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.