Theater review: The Submission by Different Strokes!

Jon Stockdale and Kirby Gibson star in Different Strokes! production of "The Submission." Photo by Sean David Robinson.
Jon Stockdale and Kirby Gibson star in Different Strokes! production of "The Submission." Photo by Sean David Robinson.

The Submission is a foul-mouthed, menacing play by Jeff Talbot, which aims to hold a mirror up to our prejudices. Different Strokes!’ production is staged at the BeBe Theatre through Saturday, Feb. 25.

Danny (played by Jon Stockdale) submitted his magnum opus to a prestigious play festival under a pseudonym. When it’s miraculously accepted into production, he calls upon an actress acquaintance named Emilie (played by Kirby Gibson) and offers a proposal that will lead her to fame and fortune. There’s a catch. As a Caucasian male, Danny feels the subject matter of his work won’t be accepted. Therefore Emilie, an African-American woman, must pretend to be the author.

The play holds nothing back, and neither does Stockdale, in a performance that’s likely to catapult him into local stardom. This intimate BeBe Theatre is perfect for Stockdale’s irrational intensity. We want to like Danny because of the gentle vibe that Stockdale gives off. If this character had been cast with an automatic harshness, the play’s theme of hidden racism would’ve been lost. The lead roles are demanding, pressuring us to understand both characters and fear them all at once. Like a tennis match, we bounce back and forth between Danny and Emilie, never completely sure which viewpoint holds more weight.

In the end, the scales are tipped slightly in Emilie’s favor — one of the plays only written flaws. It would’ve been more grueling to dissect each character after the fact by keeping them on even playing ground. Still, Gibson does excellent work making us detest Emilie by portraying her as ornery and cold. This will be one of the roles she’s best remembered for, and rightly so. However, during a beast of an argument scene, she never breaks a sweat. To reach total captivation, the-always-well-put-together actress could’ve gotten dirtier and turned herself completely inside out.

Talbot’s supporting characters are rather thin, but, in this production, the cast works well together, feeling at times like an acid-washed episode of Friends. The confident Travis Lowe plays Trevor, Danny’s best friend. Lowe’s memorable comedic nature certainly grabs the audience’s attention, but his phone-sex scene with Gibson needed absolute eroticism. It’s when Lowe allows his comedy to take a backseat for the sake of drama that he crushes it. The charming Maximilian Koger plays Danny’s partner Pete to sheer perfection. His sitcomesque line delivery sparkles. Koger and Stockdale are unexpectedly believable as a loving couple facing radical turbulence.

The bold comparison that gay and African-American people somehow share similar pain brought on by society’s lack of acceptance is the play’s fever pitch. It begs the unnerving question: When it comes to specific minorities of people experiencing abuse, should there be a dividing line isolating one’s ability to understand?

Stephanie Hickling Beckman is an extraordinary director, plowing full force into the topics this play brings up. Her skill lies in stripping the actors to the rawness the material requires. Their conversations are fluid and real. The play’s latter part is a controversial rollercoaster ride of biting dialogue that feels torturous and necessary.

Dramas this intense are not as widely accepted (although they should be). It’s legitimately pleasing to see such daring material being produced in a city that stands for artistic liberty. The Submission is an early contender for Best Local Theater Production of the year.

WHAT: The Submission
WHERE: BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St., differentstrokespac.org
WHEN: Thursdays to Saturdays through Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m. $18 advance/ $21 at the door.

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary.

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