Claudia Rankine’s Play, The White Card: Unpacking the Layers With Director Carlene Coury 

Why is there a fear of engaging in conversations that make people uncomfortable and vulnerable? Why is there fear of discussing lived experiences, especially concerning perceived experiences around gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.? While one person’s experience may be uniquely different, there are similar experiences among humans that intersect. The play White Card, written by Claudia Rankine, creates space for uncomfortable and awkward dialogue between a philanthropic socialite couple, their political activist son who sees his parents as part of a bigger problem, a multi-generational art dealer and the well-educated upper-middle-class artist whose creativity ignites thought-provoking conversations amongst viewers who engage with her pieces.

Art can catapult the viewer into imagination and motivation through visual expression.

Rankine states, “The White Card stages a conversation that is informed and derailed by the black/white American drama. The scenes in this one-act play, for all the characters’ disagreements, stalemates, and seeming impasses, explore what happens if one is willing to stay in the room when it is painful to bear the pressure to listen and the obligation to respond.” The White Card forces its characters to engage in living room dialogue around art and the imagination. The author also shares that this play “was a way to test an imagined conversation regarding race and racism among strangers.” 

The White Card, directed by award-winning director Carlene Coury, will take place in Pinole (Pinole Community Players), Pittsburg (Pittsburg Theatre Company), and Martinez (The Campbell Theater) with dates in January and February to include the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday in January and Black History Month in February. Check each theater for specific dates and times. 

Coury also shared that she was first introduced to The White Card during a reading at the Benicia Library performed by the Benicia Theatre Group in June 2022. Coury shared that upon the end of the reading, participants were about to be dismissed, but she saw an opportunity to unpack what attendees had just experienced. “We need to talk about this,” stated Coury. Coury shared that the conversation with the actors of the Benicia Theatre Group and the audience lasted about 90 minutes. Fast forward, and at the end of another directorial production with The Pinole Community Players, she proposed to the theatre group the idea of having a reading of the play, which will successfully return to the Pinole Community Players for a second running. Coury shared, “When I saw it for the first time, I was moved enough to bring it to Pinole Community Players.”

When asked about outcomes for attendees, Coury stated, “It depends on where you are at, and if you don’t want to learn anything, you won’t come. It can make you uncomfortable, but there are funny moments.” Coury also stated, “Attending can help someone become more introspective.” Coury went on to share about the importance of never assuming that we know what someone’s experience is based on their appearance, which also plays out during the dialogue amongst the actors as the conversations become more intense.  

The play will be in the format of Reader’s Theatre, and attendees can anticipate the full intensity of each character.

Coury shared, “We are working on the actor’s voices and bringing the characters to life. Your voice is your actor.” After each reading, there will be a discussion with the audience and actors. When asked about the importance of people attending, Coury shared, “The White Card has layers to unpack, and being able to peel back the layers and take a step back is a start when engaging in uncomfortable conversations.”  While participants don’t have to engage in the discussion after the play, there will be opportunities to ask questions, have a discussion, or listen and learn.

The cast includes the following actors: 

Jeffrey Trescott, Pennell Chapin (Pinole Community Players performances only), Gwendolyn, Sampson Brown, Davi Santiago. The following actors have alternating roles: Martie Muldoon*, Desty Shoemaker*, Tyleen Kelly*, and Susannah Wood*. Note: The Martinez production is being spearheaded by actress Gwendolyn Sampson Brown. Carlene Coury will direct all performances. 

The performances are free to the public. 

More about Claudia Rankine:

Claudia Rankine also founded the Racial Imaginary Institute, which is also known as An Interdisciplinary Cultural Laboratory.

Author Claudia Rankine published poetry as early as 1994 with titles including, Nothing in Nature Is Private, The End of the Alphabet, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004). Rankine is best known for The Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue. The White Card first hit the stage in 2018 and delves into racism as it shows up in everyday life.