This Friday, the Binghamton University Theatre Department will put on its first Mainstage production of the semester, “Baltimore.” With a plot focused on a racist incident in a college dorm, the play injects a realistic backdrop of a university with broader themes of political unrest.
Written by Kirsten Greenidge, “Baltimore” takes place in an unnamed university in the Northeast during the beginning of the fall semester. When a student plasters a racist and hateful image onto another student’s door, the entire campus erupts as it is forced to confront a side of society that many often prefer to sweep under the rug. At the center of the action is Shelby, an African American resident assistant who works in the dorm where the incident takes place. The dramedy balances heavy themes of contemporary racism with comedic moments sprinkled throughout its one hour and 40-minute run time.
Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., director of the show and a senior lecturer in Cornell’s department of performing and media arts, emphasized the timeliness of the Mainstage production. He said the events of the play are especially relevant in the wake of similar racist incidents at the University, including racist drawings that were found in Newing College in 2017.
“I just think it’s a really great play for this age,” he said. “I think it demands so much from the students, and they have to really get authentic because they’re dealing with the issues that happen in the play right now in their lives. ”
According to co-assistant director Cindy Dias, a sophomore majoring in theatre, Simmons pays extensive attention to viewpoints from nearly every side of the production.
“He’s not like any other director I’ve worked with before,” she said. “He wants to make sure that everybody feels that their stamp is left on the production. It’s just a very supportive environment.”
It’s this supportive environment that has allowed the cast of “Baltimore” to flourish within their roles and bust out remarkable performances. Robert Edwards, a senior majoring in theatre, portrays Bryant, a college freshman trying to stay neutral within the politically charged atmosphere of his college campus. He said that he felt passionately obligated to take part in this show. When asked if his politically progressive mindset conflicted with tapping into the character of the neutral Bryant, Edwards said he chose to approach the role from its core.
“Being a black man and coming into college is something I have experienced, so going in through that lens helped me get into it,” Edwards said.
Savannah Young, an actress in the show and a freshman majoring in biology, said she finds excitement in how “Baltimore” aims to challenge the audience with difficult questions.
“I see this role as a duty for this campus and for myself to perform and relay this message to everyone,” she said.
Simmons said that the roles in “Baltimore” are roles actors usually don’t get to play as students.
“It’s very rare that you get to play this kind of role at the college that you’re going to,” he said. “[The actors] get to lean on their experience, but at the same time, they challenge themselves to really bring their full selves to the play.”
Baltimore will be opening its doors this Friday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. on campus at the Watters Theater in the Anderson Center. For opening night, the price for admission for students will be discounted to $5. This deal is only available at the Watters Theater Box Office. Other performances include 8 p.m. showings on March 2, 8 and 9 and a 2 p.m. showing on March 10.