Fictional characters are such hapless creatures. Doomed to lives composed of unfortunate choices, secrets, and tragic flaws, their faith supported by mere circumstantial evidence, they flounder in the footlights. These shortcomings seem especially true of the family in JC Lee’s tense, intelligent issue play Luce, in which a black American teacher (Sharon Washington) alerts the adoptive parents of Luce, a high-achieving Congolese boy (Marin Hinkle, Neal Huff, and Okieriete Onaodowan, respectively), to a troubling essay the teen has written, as well as a few M-80s she discovers in his locker during an unauthorized search. What follows is a near-Brechtian pileup of bad decisions, passive-aggression, and specious assumptions on the part of every character.
Thus Lee serves us a main dish of contemporary concerns about privacy, along with several side-dish issues: the rights of minors, the pitfalls of identity politics, more than one variety of racial tension—not merely black versus white, but an implied animosity between Luce and his teacher—and, glancingly, date rape. By the end, what little integrity anyone had has completely unraveled. Lee’s characters show us how not to behave, but as with Brecht, something feels absent from this characterization of human nature. Yes, people make big mistakes, but only fictional characters ever do anything consistently. Real screw-ups occasionally make good decisions, if only by accident.