“Crib” is being staged at Theatre Works through July 29. (Courtesy photo)
Tracy Sow

By Tracy Sow, Special to TSDMemphis.com

“Crib” is the very realistic story of an African-American female professor, Tracy, in a fierce battle for her tenure in an engaging play being staged at Theatre Works.

Tracy (Lisa Williams) faces off with her emotionally charged star-student athlete Rajon (Roman Kalei Kyle) about plagiarism and his willfully unethical Coach Pari. Her only support appears to be her assistant Lisa throughout this thought provoking story.

The writer, Gino Dilorio, nailed each character with complexity, humanity and humor.

Coach Pari (John Maness) brings to life the cold, heartless and unapologetic ruthlessness that exist in major athletic programs. He delivers clever lines and misguided analogies throughout to keep the audience laughing. Coach Pari’s breakdown on basketball, “Blacks play it, Jews watch it and Italians coach it.”

During intermission, a couple of audience members gave their perspective.

Gary Cook: “I am very proud of what they are able to bring forth with this message.”

Brent Davis: “What we are enjoying is seeing something that is new and it’s good to see people bring something to life that hasn’t been seen before and being done in such an artful way. It has been good so far.”

I asked if the two were sports fans? Brent replied, “Yes and no, we both played basketball.” Gary quickly clarified, “In the younger years.”

Brent added: “We don’t have the level of understanding at the level of the main character of the show, but the struggle that the professor is having to go through and what she’s dealing with from a different side. Because, basketball has rules and academia has rules. So determining where you bend and where you stand firm is an interesting dynamic that they are demonstrating.”

Williams digs deep to bring Tracy’s harsh realities to life: right vs wrong, success and workplace compromise just to achieve a position already justly earned.

Tracy writes a book, “Black on Blackface” that she desperately needs published to secure her tenure. She is one of only four African-American professors at the school and two of them are seeking tenure. When faced with morality and more adversity, will she turn the cheek only to get slapped again with more injustice or just play the game?

The game is Rajon’s best hope for big dollars. But, can he survive the obstacles and obvious commercialization of the student athlete? Kyle’s Rajon is charming, capable with proper care, but nevertheless a potential causality to a big team’s bottom line. Kyle is so brilliant in this role, one can’t help but wonder just how many of our young black men are quietly suffering in these mega college athletic programs?

Seventeen-year-old Karlyn Bowers, attending the play for an assignment for her Introduction to Theater class at Southwest, really summarized the theme succinctly. She liked, “How it talked about three major themes: race, mental health and academics with undertones of sexism.”

Whether you are a sports fan or not, “Crib” gives you an insight into so many critical areas prominent in our society through a very entertaining lens.

The winner of the 2016 NewWorks@TheWorks Playwriting competition, “Crib” and runs through July 29.