This third installment of Thomas Gibbons’ enthralling trilogy on race relations studies, with compassion, the loneliness of a woman much like Condoleeza Rice, here named Candace Lane (Kellie Roberts). She’s an African-American intellectual whose drift toward social conservatism has made her a target of black progressives, white liberals and — paradoxically — puts her at odds with the very conservatives whom she courts. With so much stridency in the air, is conversation even possible? As in his Permanent Collection, Gibbons toys with the umbilical cord that connects history to identity, here via the construction of the Museum of American Liberty, celebrating George Washington. On the very grounds of the proposed site was the euphemistically named “servants quarters” — actually a hovel where Washington’s nine slaves were housed. Two of those slaves, a brother and a sister (Toyin Moses and Maurice McRae) occupy the space as ghost presences, haunting Candace, who nonetheless adheres to a philosophy like Ward Connerly’s, that “welfare programs” such as affirmative action not only perpetuate the “victimization” of black citizens in principle, but they also don’t work in practice. So what is the purpose of a museum, and of history: to add to that identity of “victimization”? To give us hope or to leave us paralyzed? What truths need to be included in this museum? What is the role of empirical truth? This core concern, among other issues, puts Candace at loggerheads with black activist Salif Camara (Hugh Dane), while Candace’s former peer and lover, a white, liberal scholar named Allen Rosen (Darin Dahms) spins like uprooted seaweed in the emotional and moral riptides. Through this, the gut-wrenching pursuit of freedom by those ancient ghost presences creates a blistering historical context for all the debate. The ideas and their permutations are scintillating, but Ben Guillory’s underprepared production doesn’t yet do them service, with actors struggling for lines and with Lane’s wan performance in the pivotal role. The play’s arguments and ironies may simply be too weighted in the drama’s cerebral stakes, but it deserves a staging that would test that theory.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: May 9. Continues through June 15, 2008

LA Weekly