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Spinning Into Butter Logo

Written by Rebecca Gilman

Directed by Whitney Smith

What is the difference between acknowledging, suppressing, and being unaware of one's own racist tendencies? What is the racial climate at universities today? Set on the campus of a predominately white college in Vermont, Rebecca Gilman's important new play tackles questions of racial guilt and suspicion with frank determination. Spinning Into Butter is a provocative must-see drama from one of America's leading young playwrights.

"...sure to stimulate all who view the theatre as a place to be challenged and, sometimes, deeply disturbed."
Curtain Up

September 18-22 at 7:30 p.m.
September 23 at 2 p.m.
Mabee Theatre

A thesis production in partial fulfillment of the M.F.A. degree in directing.

Sarah Daniels Lisa Stucker
Ross Collins Justin Locklear
Dean Burton Strauss Noel Collins
Dean Caterine Kenney Deborah Benesh
Mr. Meyers Samuel Hough
Patrick Chibas Patrick Matzig
Greg Sullivan Joey Melcher

Student Production Staff
Director Whitney Smith
Stage Manager Amanda Wray
Assistant Stage Manager Sarah Chanis
Costume Designer Carl Booker
Make-up Designer Carl Booker
Sound Designer John Murdock
Lighting Designer Stephanie Formas
Assistant Light Designer Shelly Rodriguez

Faculty Production Staff
Set Designer Bill Sherry
Technical Director Mike Schmulz

Baylor's "Spinning Into Butter"

By Carl Hoover, Waco Tribune-Herald
September 21, 2007

First things first: If you want to see Baylor Theatre's production of Rebecca Gilman's "Spinning Into Butter," the only performance with tickets left is a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Sept. 22, that was added after every other performance sold out. Tickets are $15, $10 for Baylor students, faculty and staff; there's standing room only if you've got a comfortable pair of shoes.

The production you'll see, directed by grad student Whitney Smith, offers the sort of theater whose best effect comes not in the play, but in the audience discussions after it. Considering that the play's subject is contemporary racism - a subject that definitely shadows much in Waco today - hats off to Smith for picking this for her thesis.

"Spinning" looks at what happens at a small, white Vermont college when one of its few black students starts receiving anonymous, racially insulting letters. Dean of Students Sarah Daniels (Lisa Stucker) quickly finds herself in the center of the controversy. Pompous faculty member Burton Strauss (Noel Collins) sees it as a chance to write windy attacks on racism; Dean Catherine Kenney (Deborah Benesh), Daniels' supervisor, fears bad publicity and wants it all to disappear, fast; glib teacher Ross Collins (Justin Locklear), a recent ex-lover, wants everyone to talk it all out; student Greg Sullivan (Joey Melcher) plots how to create a student group on tolerance and thus polish his resume. Almost nobody talks to the student affected.

Only security guard Mr. Myers (Sam Hough), a blue-collar, non-academic, commiserates with Daniels' efforts to get to the root of the problem and see how the quiet black student feels about being targeted. Complicating her thoughts on the controversy is her recent attempt to have student Patrick Chibas (Patrick Matzig) change his declared ethnicity from "nurican" to "Puerto Rican" to qualify for a sizable scholarship. Her efforts to persuade him backfire, however, when he perceives her request as an unthinking insult to his heritage.

Ultimately, the professional and personal pressures lead Daniels to an explosive revelation of her inner thoughts and guilt, which, in turn, has adverse consequences from those less honest with themselves.

It's there that "Spinning Into Butter" should begin - How should we act when our motives are mixed? Does that really constitute racism? Or does labeling it as such obstruct healthy, more open discussion? Gilman, though, is content to raise the need for talk and individual consideration and leave it there. She also raises an important issue of deception - count the characters around Daniels who lie to her in some fashion - only to set this aside in large part by play's end.

While there's plenty of truth in her characters' behavior, there's little self-revelation past their careful facades of proper behavior. As a result, "Spinning" engages the head more than the heart; that's a starting point, but only a starting point, for the subject of race, with its deep roots in the core of our identities where emotions often bubble and disturb our intentions.

Smith spreads the action across the William Sherry-designed space, an elegant collegiate office with clean lines and neatly framed by a border of red fall leaves. Lockear's easy, voluable performance leads the cast with Collins providing a nice character turn as the stuffy, egotistical Strauss and Matzig as the conflicted student Chibas. Stucker has some good moments as Daniels, particularly toward the close of the play, but her character's frequent open-palm gestures as she talks becomes a distracting mannerism, even if one accepts that Daniels is emotionally tightly wound.

The end of "Spinning" may leave us at a beginning, but at least it takes us there. There's precious little theater presented in Waco with a racial theme or issue to serve as a starting point for discussion. Could we be a different community if there were more ™ let's talk.