In 1992, a former cab driver named Will Kern drew on his experience to whip up a bracing entertainment called Hellcab. An actor played the driver and an ensemble of six played something in the neighborhood of 30 passengers who occupied the back seat during one shift on Christmas Eve. It didn’t pretend to be a comprehensive portrait of Chicago, but an awful lot of contrasting humanity passed through that vehicle. The scenes ranged from farce to near-tragedy. The constant was the driver, professionally required to be disengaged but with a persistently stirring moral sensibility that drew him to sometimes cross the line. The driver in Hellcab was nameless and we had no sense of his history.
Almost thirty years later, playwright Reginald Edmund offers us Ride Share. There are points of comparison. Like Kern, Edmund draws on personal experience driving Chicagoland (though not in a cab but in his own car as part of the gig economy), and again, we encounter a stream of characters. Except that we encounter the characters as seen from the perspective of the driver. And the driver has a name, Marcus. He also has a history. He was a Black executive and was accustomed to throwing his money around (he spent $85,000 on his wedding). Suddenly and brutally laid off, he finds he has no choice but to begin driving just to bring something in. So his perspective of the passengers is informed not only by his former privilege but his current exile from the world in which he used to flourish. Inevitably, because he is a Black man and many of his fares are white, issues of race arise. If Hellcab’s driver was a lens through which we saw a variety of characters, Ride Share’s focus is on Marcus and on how a sudden shift in status makes him question the assumptions of his life and tempt him to behave in ways that would have previously been unimaginable.
It’s a solo piece performed by Kamal Angelo Bolden in a video production directed by Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway. In some respects, it resembles the extraordinary series of solo pieces for the camera Alan Bennett wrote called Talking Heads, pieces in which, although characters confided in us with candor, we in the audience frequently arrived at quite different evaluations of the action than they offered. Many of the characters in Bennett’s collection were aging ladies who mostly were discovered sitting. Marcus is younger and more kinetic. Though he clocks a certain amount of time in the front seat of his car, he also dances and glides and, at one point, leaps onto the roof of his car. Hodge-Dallaway’s camera captures it all, but maintains a sufficient distance that we never give up our own perspective to Marcus. We are sympathetic to his outrage, but we hope that it will not lead him to the self-destruction he flirts with.
During the pandemic, many theaters found ways to employ video technology to keep telling stories. It will be a relief to return to real spaces, of course, but I expect that, having tasted the artistic possibilities of video, we will see a stream of projects from these companies designed to bring theatrically-rooted projects to audiences who would be unlikely to visit them in person. Aside from its own considerable value, Ride Share offers a tantalizing preview of what might come. Back in the 1950s, during what has been termed the Golden Age of TV Drama, the constant stream of original plays from the Philco Playhouse, Playhouse 90 and the like often showcased the first drafts of projects that went on to be developed for stage and/or screen (eg, The Trip to Bountiful, Twelve Angry Men, Judgment at Nuremberg, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Days of Wine and Roses, Marty, The Miracle Worker, etc.). I hope that video theater might turn into a similar ground for the development of new works. There is certainly a potential film in Ride Share.