B&B’s The Last White Man Defies Categorization by Tina Arth at Westside Theatre Reviews

(photo by Casey Campbell Photography)

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography shows Tim Gouran and James Luster

When Bag&Baggage founding artistic director Scott Palmer left town in 2018 to try out life in
Sun Valley, Idaho, his departure left a massive crater in the Washington County theater scene.

Undaunted, B&B stepped up and produced some absolutely marvelous stuff after his departure
- then, of course, Covid hit and threw a massive monkey wrench into pretty much everything,
definitely including the arts scene. In fact, the last live production I reviewed before the
shutdown was Measure of Innocence at The Vault in March of 2020 (fun side note: I still
remember with horror the woman who sat next to me, coughing throughout the show!). As the
local area emerged from strict lockdown, I was able to see a couple of B&B’s outdoor
productions, but I had been pining for some serious Vault time when I got the invitation to see
playwright Bill Cain’s The Last White Man directed by – wait for it – Scott Palmer! Leave it at
this: I am delighted that Scott is back, he has assembled a remarkable team and managed the
B&B resources to their best effect to present a play that grips the audience from beginning to
end. I don’t know what role he’ll be playing in the local theater scene, but I will follow his
reintegration enthusiastically.

Since the current production is the Pacific Northwest premiere of The Last White Man it is not
surprising that I knew nothing about the show when I walked in the door. When you go to see it
(you will, right?) you’ll have a better handle on what to expect! A major production of Hamlet is
in the works, under the guidance of Xandri (Rae Davis), a Black woman director. Her lead is
big-name film star Charlie (Khail Duggan), sporting a shiny new Oscar but plagued by paralyzing
doubt about his ability to do justice to the iconic role. He is driving the amazingly patient Xandri
nuts with his reluctance to rehearse, and he wants to modify the script – e.g., why not say “To
be, or not” and cut out the second “to be” since it’s superfluous? However, Xandri has covered
her bases – there’s Raf (James Luster), an ambitious understudy who would love to see Charlie
disappear, and Tigg (Tim Gouran), a venerated older actor willing to step in for a final crack at
one of theater’s greatest roles to close his illustrious career. Cain puts a lot of drama in this play
within a play about a play within a play, but laces it with so much humor that I really can’t call it
tragedy, comedy, or dramedy – it’s all of the above, a tasteful dose of commentary on diversity
issues in theater, and more, plus a sporadic soundtrack playing homage to the greatest hits of
Gloria Gaynor and Bonnie Tyler. What’s not to love?
Khail Duggan grabs focus immediately; he’s a lithe, muscular, and brooding James Dean
wannabe whose juvenile outbursts and tantrums initially come across as spoiled egotism. Duggan gradually reveals the crippling insecurity at war with his determination to succeed that makes “To be, or not to be” much more than a line in a play – his indecision blurs the line
between actor and role until we can hardly separate the two.
Luster’s “Rafe” moves smoothly
between eager fanboy, touchingly sincere friend, and master manipulator – figuring out who he
is at any point in the play poses an interesting challenge, and in the final analysis Luster
convinces us that he is all three.
Tim Gouran is masterful as Tigg – funny and even whimsical, sometimes sardonic, sometimes
laconic and sometimes intense. He gradually reveals how much this final Hamlet means to him,
yet how much it takes for him to tackle the role – Touran inhabits Tigg’s skin completely as he
slowly breaks our hearts.
Finally, there’s Rae Davis’s “Xandri” – perhaps easily overlooked on a stage filled with
attention seeking white guys, yet as director she actually holds the reins of this turbulent
Hamlet. Rae creates a character who is confident, strong, and determined to get the
performances she needs without resorting to the bullying she has seen from male directors –
somewhere between a kindergarten teacher and a fight referee. As the only Black, only female
character she carries the show’s social justice messages on her shoulders with aplomb.
Technical Director Jim Ricks-White uses the Vault’s tech capabilities to spectacular effect,
teaming up with Projection Designer Mandy Khoshnevisan to create a rich theater world from a
relatively bare stage.
Bag&Baggage’s The Last White Man is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro,
through Sunday, October 30th .

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