SPINNING INTO BUTTER, Goodman Theatre. Rebecca Gilman will be a great playwright when she stops worrying about pleasing her audience. Her new play, Spinning Into Butter, about a white liberal-arts faculty trying to deal with a string of racist incidents on a Vermont campus, should rile and unnerve but too often merely entertains. Employing her keen dramatic skills, Gilman illustrates the petty one-upmanship and cowardly ass-covering of an "enlightened" faculty more worried about public relations than social justice, but too often she announces what we should applaud and what we should condemn. And given her talent for snappy scenes and slightly wacky characters, Spinning Into Butter can feel like really good television.
But when Gilman allows a bit of ambivalence to creep in, the results are breathtaking. In the play's strongest scenes, seemingly the most open-minded faculty member meets with a minority student in an attempt to give him a $12,000 scholarship, yet each well-meaning step deepens the racial divide between them. Like David Mamet in Oleanna, Gilman lets neither student nor teacher off the hook, instead dramatizing the maddening, debilitating complexity of politics when they become personal. These scenes may infuriate an audience looking for easy solutions, but they're the only ones that rise to the demands of the difficult subject. --Justin Hayford