White Fever Dreams

The distortions of black and brown lives in the white imagination

Roxane Gay
Gay Mag
Published in
10 min readJan 31, 2020

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Illustration by Christina Yoseph

TThe new West Side Story revival attempts to reinterpret the classical music for a contemporary audience in a fraught political climate. It is Romeo and Juliet, but with tattoos and ripped clothing and barely suppressed rage rolling beneath the skin of every character. It is a story of old immigrants versus new immigrants, and how people living on the margins are forced to fight for the little scrap of the world they share. The cast is multiracial and the Sharks are played by actual people of color instead of white actors in brown face so that, I suppose, is progress. The Jets are not just disaffected white men but also black.

The stage is vast and ominously bare. The most interesting parts of the set — Doc’s store and the bridal shop, are found deep into the stage and parts are hidden from view. When action takes place in those spaces, it is projected onto massive screens, stretching across the stage. Sometimes, cast members film the action on stage. Other times, pre-recorded segments supplement the live action. Like far too many shows in recent years, West Side Story relies heavily, too heavily in fact, on projections that are expected to do the work stagecraft should.

Tonally, this West Side Story is significantly different from the original. “Gee…

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Roxane Gay
Gay Mag

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.