Reginald Edmund's “Ride Share” taps into the zeitgeist of our turbulent times. Based on the playwright's experiences as a rideshare driver, some of which he posted on Facebook, the 100-minute monologue takes us on a very bumpy ride through the mind of a man pushed to extremes — and played to a T by Kamal Angelo Bolden.
Originally commissioned and produced by Black Lives, Black Words International Project, founded by Edmund and his wife Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, the director, the show started life on Zoom in July 2020 with Bolden performing in his apartment using his laptop as the camera and creating different locations, times and characters by using different rooms, lighting and household objects.
The current world premiere, a digital co-production with Writers Theatre, is a more sophisticated hybrid of theater and film, thanks to the imaginative work of director of photography Tannie Xin Tang, scenic designer Alexandra Regazzoni, sound designer/composer/mixer CHXLL Sounds and editor Lesley Kubistal. The many camera angles keep the action visually interesting, even when little actually is happening, and the soundscape draws on everything from tension-building thriller tropes to hits by Kendrick Lamar, our hero's favorite rapper.
This hero, or anti-hero, is 33-year-old Marcus, a Black man who recently married the love of his life Joselyn and has a high-paying job at a downtown Chicago firm. The wedding cost a cool $85,000, but he's not too worried because today, after 12 years of dedicated service, he's about to be made a partner.
Or so he thinks.
Instead, he's called into the conference room and laid off as a cost-cutting measure. Adding insult to injury, the youngest executive involved, Craig, a white guy who is married to the boss's niece, tells him to count it as a blessing.
Marcus starts driving for rideshare services like Uber and Lyft to pay off his debts and make a living. He trades his suit for comfy black sweats and laments how little and dirty his Kia is. Working an early morning shift and an evening one, separated by afternoon time at home to sleep and eat, he becomes a slave to the dinging of the app, signaling another ride, and obsessed with the ratings riders give him. He especially hates getting stuck in the distant suburbs. He also does things like listening to Spanish-language radio in hopes of picking up more of the language and hanging out in the airport parking lot to get bigger fares.
In addition, Marcus first hears about COVID-19 while in his car, prompting him to try to put up a plastic barrier, an exercise in frustration that we get to feel with him. His conjectures about the rideshare company's response to the pandemic and the actuality add to the absurdity.
Besides detailing the soul-deadening routine of his new life, and the claustrophobia that drives him to contemplate suicide, Marcus treats us to anecdotes about his passengers and their often dismissive, inconsiderate, humiliating or even disgusting behavior. Race often figures into these stories, and his attitude toward young white women can be problematic. On the other hand, he's so taken with a beautiful and flirtatious Black woman in a long white dress that he almost cheats on his wife, then is ashamed of himself.
Marcus isn't alone when this happens, however, The Dark Rider, invisible to everyone except him, is right beside him, urging him to indulge in his desires and retaliate for abuses. The embodiment of rage over centuries of racial injustice, the Dark Rider is a complicated combination of devil and avenging angel for the millions who couldn't speak for themselves.
Marcus initially reveals the presence of the Dark Rider when he picks up a man headed to the Palmer House Hotel, whom he recognizes by his voice as Craig, the exec who fired him. Self-satisfied and so condescending he keeps calling Marcus by the wrong name, Craig arguably would anger anyone, but Marcus tries to keep his cool, even as the Dark Rider eggs him on to bash Craig's face in.
A second encounter with Craig leads to a violent climax and a rather surprising, and hopeful, denouement. It's also disturbing and not entirely conclusive.
Up until that point, “Ride Share” tells an iconic contemporary story, which is both an advantage and a drawback. I found it hard to get into at first, because the situations and people Marcus described weren't all that gripping, and his emotions were fairly predictable, but Bolden's varied, nuanced and quietly intense performance drew me in.