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Provocative “Neighbors” is a Sizzling Theatrical Firebomb

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Julia Campbell and Leith Burke in 'Neighbors.' | Photo: I.C. Rapoport
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There’s a line in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ new play, Neighbors, where one of the main characters says: “Race is an illusion! If you ignore it, it will go away!” The character speaking would like to make that statement true through force of sheer will, but the play thwarts him at every turn, insisting that racial stereotypes are alive and well, and the idea of a post-racial world is still quite distant. In other words, this isn’t a particularly optimistic play, but what it lacks in reassurance in makes up for in assured audacity.

This world premiere at the Matrix Theatre will likely be one of the most controversial shows of the year. Its depiction of African-American stereotypes is deliberately over-the-top and sometimes repulsive, and some audience members may not want to endure watching them, regardless of the point behind presenting them. However, those willing to engage with this provocative piece are rewarded with a production that is excellent on every level, a play that is moving and funny and energetic and uncomfortable in the best way—the kind of play that makes you want to talk about it in the lobby for an hour afterward and think about it for days after that. It’s a theatrical firebomb, a genuine event.