Think of a college dorm room. Not just any dorm room, but a dorm room for freshmen. A place where, every year, two strangers arrive, with all the hopes and dreams, as well as all the fears and insecurities, that come with the start of the college experience.
They learn how to deal with their new environment. And how to deal with the person they were more or less randomly thrown together with, in the next bed.
In “College Colors,” a new play that is currently being presented at the Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, playwright Stacie Lents cleverly sets all the action in a single dorm room in a small, unnamed liberal arts college in the Northeast. But the scenes alternate between 1964, when two young men occupied it, and 2016, when two young women are there. In both cases, one of the students is black, and one is white.
Needless to say, the 52-year gap makes a big difference.
In ’64, Aaron (Andrew Manning) faces a real threat of physical violence from racist classmates. His roommate Michael (Matt Maretz) is supportive; still, there is a palpable awkwardness between them. They are aware that, just by living in the same room, they are doing something that a significant portion of society frowns upon.
In ’16, meanwhile, African-American Tanya (Wakeema Hollis) has a confident stride, but her white roommate, Julie (Gillian Mariner Gordon), is a pathetic misfit who is dying to get into a sorority and terrified that none will accept her. Underscoring Julie’s nightmare, Tanya is indifferent to sororities — almost oblivious to them — but ends up being strongly courted by one, anyway. She’s unsure if she should join: It’s a black sorority, and she doesn’t want to be defined by her blackness. Yet she surprises even herself by finding herself drawn to the sorority, where, almost in spite of herself, she feels like she fits in.
Yes, these are two very different sets of problems: The stories don’t exactly mirror each other, but certain elements in one do echo elements in the other. And Lents comes up with a clever way of tying everything together in a very satisfying final scene.
Using the college experience to illustrate how much has changed in the last half century (without oversimplifying anything), “College Colors” is a perfect choice for a Black History Month presentation in a theater that happens to be located in a college town.
“College Colors” will be presented at the Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick through Feb. 14; visit crossroadstheatrecompany.org.