A WHITE MAN’S GUIDE TO RIKERS ISLAND is basically a one-man show with two men, the younger version (played by newcomer Connor Chase Stewart in his Off-Off Broadway debut), and the present version by the real-life subject of the story, and co-writer, Richard L. Roy, also starring in the play. The true story is based on Roy’s time in Rikers Island as a young man who gets a plea bargain after a drunk driving incident that leaves a young Puerto Rican man dead. As we find out early in the play, Roy is a former boxer, now up-and-coming actor at the time of the incident, who is about to hit it big. Excited at this sudden stroke of luck, Roy celebrates to the point where he ends up getting behind the wheel of his car and killing an innocent man. The story, as told by the two Roys, centers around his year at Rikers and the lessons he learns about being an entitled, well-off White man in a mostly Black and Hispanic correctional institution. As mentioned early on in the story, over 95% of the Rikers Island population is non-white, a situation that suddenly makes the main character a minority in a violent world where little is overlooked or forgiven.
A tall and imposing man himself, Richard Roy has to survive just long enough to complete his sentence and get out alive. Size will barely help, and for the most part, his entitled background is actually reason enough to make him a target, and put him in constant danger. To his shock and dismay, there is no way to fly under the radar, and he has to learn everything from a new lingo used at Rikers, to navigating a pecking order designed to keep him down. The story is told in chronological order by both men, but the heart of the story - Roy’s time inside the walls of Rikers Island - by his younger version, who is on stage for most of the play. Both men are wonderful story-tellers, but the seamless transitions work because the young actor, Connor Chase Stewart, nails the part. With clean, clear direction by Thomas G. Waites, excellent lighting on a mostly dark and claustrophobic, bare stage that truly captures the feel of each moment, and a surprisingly tight and powerful performance by Mr. Stewart, this story propels you into Mr. Roy’s harsh reality. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a drunk driver taking the life of an innocent, but with 30 years in the making, and Mr. Roy’s obvious emotional regrets to a momentary lapse in judgement, you truly appreciate the greater message of his story. Most people would have buried the events of that fateful night and moved on. But Mr. Roy owns it; he wants to use it as a life lesson that may inspire others to avoid similar mistakes.
The writing is excellent. In collaboration with Davenport Theatrical Enterprises’ Eric C. Webb, Mr Roy has fashioned an interesting and fast moving play that grabs you from the start and holds you throughout. The characters, all played by Mr. Stewart, come alive. This young actor has much to offer. He holds you entranced throughout the play. Together, the two actors are charming and engaging, and hopefully inspiring in their mission to keep others from making similar mistakes.
The play, which was given a limited engagement at The Players Theatre from March 28th through April 7th at The Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre is still partly in development and is expected to return this Summer. If it does, go see it. This is great story-telling, excellent acting, and worth a return engagement. Get more information and updates at www.awhitemansguidetorikersisland.com.