D Mitchell’s Flight of the Xenophobe encases 2013 in amber to examine the issues of race and gentrification. Xenophobia comes from Greek and means a strong fear of what is foreign, so who, Flight asks, is the xenophobe?
578 (Darien Mitchell), paroled after spending 10 years in prison because of a drug conviction, is shocked to find that where he called home is not the same as when he left. Particularly irksome is that a white couple live next door to his grandmother; Becky (Margaret Murphy), is, he believes, taunting him when she sings “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” and Bill (Matthew Wilson), is a busy realtor, in part responsible for the gentrification.
Despite familiar faces, such as 579 (Obum Ezekwem) and Uncle Joe (Steve Langley), 578 doesn’t feel at home in the changing neighborhood. 578 learns that 579, who is also African-American also did time for a drug conviction but was released after two years and has a government job paying $17 an hour.
He can’t see his grandmother who is not feeling well, Uncle Joe tells him. He can’t stay in her home any longer and he needs to find a job, though 578 believes most jobs would not take on a person who has been convicted of a felony in the past 10 years.
Even his parole officer Mr. Thomas (Steve Langley) becomes offended at 578’s abrasive words, especially the “N” word. Mr. Thomas believes 578’s mind is still trapped in prison, even if his body is not.
The tensions between 578, Becky and Bill have risen to such a level that, when Bill gets mugged in the neighborhood, 578 is believed to be the one who did it and lead to a stunning end.
Flight of the Xenophobe portrays characters that are highly accessible. Uncle Joe and Mr. Thomas want to avoid trouble in any way, shape or form, Becky is outraged by 578’s insults, Bill feels he is doing good by selling houses in the neighborhood while 578 tries to understand the world he now lives in.
The ensemble turns in outstanding performances, especially Steve Langley, who convincingly transforms from Mr. Thomas, a very straight-laced man, into the more relaxed Uncle Joe.
The word ‘xenophobia’ is powerful in the hands of those who, like Becky, carry white privilege because, when it comes to gentrification, it sidesteps the issue of racism altogether. So who is the xenophobe, really – Becky, Bill, 578?
Flight of the Xenophobe, written and directed by D Mitchell. Production Manager: Natalie Mitchell. Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Miekayla Singleton. Featuring: Obum Ezekwem, Margaret Murphy, Steve Langley, Matthew Wilson, and Darien Mitchell. Produced by IAMAMAN Productions. Reviewed by Selma Khenissi.