“Policy changes things—not protests,” declares Connor (Geoffrey Malveaux), the African-American college student who’s the central figure in Jason Mendez’s “Supremacy,” a world premiere at Exit Theatre.
But his (white) girlfriend, Alex (the wonderfully named Wera Von Wulfen), wants to join the current “Not my President,” not-my-this-and-that demonstration underway.
Suddenly things go awry: A nervous cop (Kyle Goldman) appears, gun pointed at Connor, and orders him not to move.
He moves. He continues to move, slithering sideways for some reason.
The cop orders Alex not to move.
She moves, and even puts her hand inside Connor’s pocket, reaching for her cell phone.
The cop shoots Connor.
Cops often shoot innocent black men like Connor, as we all know, but why did Connor and Alex move? After all, Connor has had The Talk from his father (Scott Van de Mark).
As it turns out, reluctant and confused Connor has a secret power that will lead him, by the end of the second act, through a hero’s journey toward an understanding of his own identity as a black man in America.
Mendez has thrown a lot of hot-button issues — too many — into the mix here.
There’s Connor’s hysterical mother (Valerie Fachman), struggling to raise a black kid in the right way (Connor’s adoptive parents are white).
There’s Connor’s assistant school principal (Alexia Staniotes), who has no idea how to deal with a gifted kid like Connor (as we see in flashbacks).
There’s the forlorn cop himself, with his own story.
And there’s Connor’s neighborhood enemy, Jamal (Gary Hughes), whom Connor must eventually confront, one way or another, and who teaches him a valuable lesson.
The plethora of provocative issues aside, the writing tends, unfortunately, toward earnest banalities like “You must fight out of love, not hate.”
Equally unfortunate, under Amanda Ortmayer’s confused direction, such add-ons as cartoony drawings, projected onto hanging sheets and meant to illustrate the stories that the characters are telling, are pointless and distracting.
More egregious yet, scenes of conflict lack tension; characters are either screaming at the top of their lungs for no reason or mumbling; and, on the May 9 performance, only Von Wulfen seemed to have a firm grip on her role.
Ultimately, to be stage-worthy, this deeply personal exploration by Mendez needs rethinking; as is, it’s an awkward blend of realism, painfully broad sketch-comedy-type characterizations, clumsy stylized movement and an intriguing touch of mysticism.
Presented by Exit Theatre
Where: 156 Eddy St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and May 13; closes May 18
Tickets: $20 to $30