Critic’s Pick: Review: Hearing the Roar of Racism in ‘White Noise’

Theater

But she — and Mr. Eustis’s production — sustain a poker face that accepts such contrivances as part of a marginally heightened reality that nudges the everyday into the logically surreal. The production’s design team — which also includes Toni-Leslie James (costumes), Xavier Pierce (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier (sound) — has a bright, almost clinical clarity, which occasionally shades into distorting static.

Any annoyance I felt with Ms. Parks’s plot contrivances was erased by the thrill of the play’s uncompromising revelations of character. For Ms. Parks isn’t just confirming the familiar observation that if you scratch the surface of a liberal, you’ll find a racist.

What motivates the characters here is so much more complex and contradictory. The paradoxical essence of these people, stripped to their raw cores, is shaped not just by History with a capital H, but by the individualizing specifics of growing up in a particular home, with particular parents at a particular moment in time.

These far-reaching back stories persuasively inform how the characters interact with one another. (Only a rushed scene between the two women, which segues from affection to antagonism, feels unnatural.) But it’s the self-portraits they paint, through four ravishing monologues, that give this production its pulsing heart.

Each performer has one, delivered with a devastating transparency that exposes the bad faith behind liberal righteousness, the anger behind glib irony, the id beneath the self-consciousness. Dawn, the daughter of psychiatrists, locates the immorality within her seemingly moral legal work. Perception, she suggests, is everything — and nothing.

Misha, the daughter of two female academics, has adopted a homegirl persona for her live streaming advice show, “Ask a Black.” (As she puts it, “I dial up the Ebonics.”) The jocular, supportive Ralph seethes with a resentment that cuts in any number of directions and eventually leads him into an ungodly sanctuary of like-minded men.

As for Leo, his insomnia is an existential condition, with atavistic roots, and though it’s possibly fatal it is also necessary. And in a breakout performance as a dramatic star, Mr. Diggs — best known as a jaunty Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton” — shows an aching emotional openness here that conveys the harsh and heavy price of staying awake in the world of the self-anesthetized.

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