We all know Chekhov’s famous rule (“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it”), and now it’s time for a 21st century update: “One must not put a cell phone onstage if no one is thinking of calling it.”
Gunshots and phone calls are pretty much the same thing in “The Submission,” which is taking absolutely no prisoners downtown at MCC. Our hero (antihero?) Danny, an ambitious playwright, gets his Chekhovian gunshot/phone call by the climax of this play, but by then shock and awe is hardly anything new; no—the flesh, guts, and gore start much early in this sharp-tongued story.
Danny has written a play, but he believes that its subject matter (a black family from the projects) will disqualify him from production: As a gay, white man, he’s hardly fodder for diversity, and feels he isn’t “allowed” to speak to the African-American condition. So he slaps an ethnic-sounding name on the play (“Shaleeha G’ntamobi”) and hires black actress to play him/her. And… cue the gunfire.
“The Submission” is a grislier version of a controversy very much of the real world. Kathryn Stockett, author of the novel The Help, drew flack for assuming the voice of African-American maids in 1960s Mississippi. As a white woman, she couldn’t help but project a patronizing or naïve version of the maids so unlike her—or at least that was the argument.
But that didn’t stop The Help from becoming a moneypot media sensation— it has turned into a kind of pop culture totem pole practically dripping with cash (airports! movies! book clubs!) If book publishing is any example, Danny needn’t have messed with any Shaleeha G’ntamobi. And hey, he wouldn’t have ended up with all those bullet holes.