by Rita Charleston
“White Guy on the Bus” unfolds in contemporary Philadelphia as we meet Shatique and Ray, two strangers who regularly ride a bus together. She is a young, struggling African-American single mother, and he is a wealthy, married, middle-aged financier. Eventually, the two strike up an unlikely friendship.
As the two get to know each other better, their pasts unfold, and tensions begin to rise, igniting an incendiary exploration of race that is truly disturbing. Written by Bruce Graham and directed by Jane Toczek, “White Guy on the Bus” continues through Feb. 23 at The Stagecrafters Theatre, 8130 Germantown Ave.
In the play, Lenny Grossman stars as Ray, a wealthy businessman who finds himself embroiled in a web of moral ambiguity as well as an out-and-out thriller.
“Some people might see this as a racist play, but like any good play, it shows two sides of a story. And like all human beings, they are not all black and white. There are many shades of gray,” Grossman said. “I think too many people today want to put everything into little boxes, but this play does a real good job of looking at white privilege and yet gives Ray a reason in the end for feeling the way he does.
“It’s tough to totally empathize with him. He’s certainly not an evil guy, although some people might see him that way. It’s a great character to play, and I think the play itself is going to cause a lot of people to take a look at certain situations that have come to the forefront in America.”
Grossman adds that in doing this play he has two goals. “One is to entertain, and the other is to make the audience think about whatever subject and to stimulate them to talk to others about their feelings. I like plays that challenge people, so I’m hoping that people will come away from this production questioning their views on things.”
Originally from Monroe, N.Y., Grossman thought about becoming a biologist, but all that changed at age 16 when some friends asked him to try out for a part in “Our Town” because they needed some more men for the play. “And that experience did it for me,” Grossman said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant to be an actor or everything I’d have to do to succeed, but I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Continuing to play roles in plays throughout high school, Grossman was also influenced by his father, Edward, a real estate agent, who also liked to do community theater. “And I think it was both those things that finally cemented my desire to become an actor.”
Determined to study his craft, after high school Grossman, who now lives in Harleysville, first attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for a year before transferring To Oneonta State University in New York. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Theater. He acted for the next 10 years but stopped at the age of 32 because of family obligations. But since his divorce a little over three years ago, he has returned to acting, which he insists is his passion.
Grossman has now become a full-time actor. “I’m getting some work on a short film. I’m working with an agent. I’m living off my savings and giving myself a year to see how things work out. Life is too short not to do the things you love most. I was about to get my Equity card when my wife let me know how unhappy she was with my acting. It’s a business where you have to have a certain temperament. There’s a lot of rejection. I didn’t want to get divorced, so before you knew it, life took over and I decided to give in to her.”
But today, Grossman is doing what he loves. “As an actor you have to constantly put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that makes you a much wiser and empathetic person. I remember playing roles that absolutely changed me as a person. Art is such a positive way to change things that need to be changed and engaging people in thought. And that’s what I love most about acting.”
For tickets to Stagecrafters, call 215-247-8881.