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In Itamar Moses' Yellowjackets, set at Berkeley High, a racially insensitive story printed in the school newspaper sparks controversy. logo
Lance Gardner and Shoresh Alaudini in Yellowjackets
(© Kevin Berne)
The subject of a 1994 Frontline documentary titled School Colors, Berkeley High School is known as a place where racial tensions heat the atmosphere, sometimes to a boiling point. So it's hardly surprising that one of its more celebrated alumni, playwright Itamar Moses, chose it as the setting of his new work, Yellowjackets, now at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. "The single most courageous thing about this play is that Itamar is taking racism -- the most volatile taboo subject in our culture -- and outing it," says Tony Taccone, the show's director and the theater's artistic director.

"We had had our eye on Itamar for awhile and when we approached him, the first thing out of his mouth was -- I want to write a piece about Berkeley High," recalls Taccone. In the play, the school's newspaper, The Jacket, publishes a racially insensitive story, resulting in a conflict that affects teachers and students alike. Taccone thinks that it will challenge local audiences since "It's a portrait of a place that people have a strong opinion about because they live in it, and think they know it. So, it should be interesting to see what kind of controversy it sparks."

Moses -- who will also be represented on many regional stages this year by such works as The Four of Us and Back, Back, Back -- has added an extra twist to the fabric of the play by double-casting all the characters as both students and faculty at the school. "He's written an adult play for younger actors -- it's very complicated, dense, and sophisticated," explains Taccone. "Finding people who can do this is not easy."

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