Search the Archive:

Back to the Table of Contents Page

Back to the Voice Home Page


Publication Date: Friday, October 12, 2001

What we talk about when we talk about race What we talk about when we talk about race (October 12, 2001)

TheatreWorks presents Rebecca Gilman's biting satire "Spinning into Butter" TheatreWorks presents Rebecca Gilman's biting satire "Spinning into Butter" (October 12, 2001)

By Bill D'Agostino

Belmont College is the last place you'd expect something like this to happen. Its professors are liberal. Its goals are honorable. It seeks to embrace.

Despite that, it's been turned upside-down when racist threats are found on a note on the door of one of its few black students. Students are outraged. Administrators call for meetings. Chaos ensues.

Thus begins "Spinning into Butter," playwright Rebecca Gilman's satire of academia's political correctness. The play opens this weekend at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, and runs until Nov. 4.

The target of the racist attack is never shown on stage. Gilman's aim as a white, southern playwright is not to represent the experience of the non-white students but to dissect the reaction of the school's white administrators - especially the well intentioned, but ultimately flawed Dean of Students Sarah Daniels (Lorri Holt).

"Spinning into Butter" Director Amy Glazer said the play "exposes the petty, often disingenuous aspect of academia" that she has witnessed in her nine years as a theater professor for San Jose State University.

Political correctness tied with the pressure to appear racially sensitive, Glazer explained, places a burden on academics to hide their complicated personal feelings about race.

"People are so afraid of the perception that they are racist," Glazer said. "A well-intentioned, well-meaning moment with a student can be twisted and spun out of context."

As a result of working on the play, Glazer has come to face to face with the recognition that she too objectifies people and doesn't always see them for who they are apart from labels and outward appearances. "Do I get on a train and decide I won't sit next to a black man? No, but I get on a train and decide I won't sit next to any man," Glazer said. "I'll sit next to a woman or a child or a dog before I'll sit next to a man."

"We're all guilty," Glazer said. No progress, Glazer added, can be made "until people are willing to say what they really think."

Last year, Glazer directed the World Premier of one of Gilman's earliest plays-"The American in Me"-about a couple facing infertility, at the Magic Theatre where Glazer serves as an associate artist.

Gilman is an up and coming playwright in the contemporary American Theatre landscape. Her most recent play, "Boy Gets Girl," portrayed a blind date gone horribly awry to examine the complex relationship between the objectification of women and violence against women. It was called the top theatre event of the year by Time Magazine in 2000.

Despite the praise, many critics have labeled Gilman an "issue" writer, calling attention to the big topics that she tackles. By doing so, Glazer warned, critics and audiences risk missing the humor and humanity in the people Gilman is exposing.

Seasoned Bay Area Actor Dan Hiatt portrays Ross Collins, a professor of art and Daniel's boyfriend. Hiatt said that Gilman's writing is often "on the money" in showing the complexity of her characters and their relationships.

Rehearsing the play in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon posed an unusual challenge for the cast and crew.

Hiatt admitted that for a while after Sept. 11, he had to struggle through feeling that working on the play was "trivial."

Glazer, however, felt the opposite. Exploring the depths of the play's thoughts and feelings was cathartic, she said, as she struggled to come to grips with world and local events. "It helped me sit with what I was feeling," Glazer said.
What: "Spinning into Butter," presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: Through Nov. 4. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. October 20 and November 3 ; 2 p.m. Sunday matinees; 7 p.m. Sunday performances on : October 21 and 28..
Cost: Tickets are $22-$40; discounts available for youth, students, seniors and members.
Info: Call (650) 903-6000 or visit


Copyright © 2001 Embarcadero Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or online links to anything other than the home page
without permission is strictly prohibited.