New ‘spin’ put on racial issues

Sarah Stambaugh

Sometimes, a play hits home for one of its actors.

“Spinning Into Butter” — currently playing at the Des Moines Playhouse, 831 42nd St. — confronts the issues of racism within a serene setting.

The play, written by Rebecca Gilman, is set on the campus of a liberal arts college in Vermont, where an act of hate has occurred.

Kim Grimaldi, who plays the character of Daniels, says the dean struggles with an issue that has plagued her throughout her career.

“Her conflict is that she comes there after working at an inner-city college. She had some negative reactions to the inner-city college, which was predominately African-American,” Grimaldi says. “Because of this she has some negative ingrained stereotypes. She knows this is absurd, and she is trying to intellectually deal with this.”

Grimaldi says she believes her internal struggle stems from suddenly realizing the racism she has been trying to prevent is found within herself. Daniels must come to terms with her feelings in order to stop it.

“What the play says is that we all have feelings below [the surface] or servility we don’t want to talk about — It is dealing with a topic that is taboo,” Vicars says.

“You’re not allowed to discuss racism below the surface. People don’t deal with feelings with people different from us — it might make people feel uneasy. I want [the audience] to deal with their feelings, and I want them to deal with them.”

“The set is fragment realism. The elements give off the traditions of a New England Ivy League school,” says John Vicars, director of “Spinning Into Butter” and executive director for the Des Moines Playhouse.

The students, faculty and staff at the college struggle to come to terms with their own concepts of racism, Vicars says.

The play takes place within the confines of the office of Sarah Daniels, dean of students, where various people within the college deal with the prejudices just outside the ivy-walled building.

“As the play unfolds, [Daniels] begins to come into play and her feelings unfold,” Vicars says.

“She tries hard to help the minority student, but for the wrong reasons.”

During the course of the play, the audience never sees the black student. They only see the Caucasians dealing with the conflicts around them.

Vicars says “Spinning Into Butter” deals with the topics in a funny yet satirical manner.

“It is a wry, cynical approach to the problem and the deep issues the play gets into,” Vicars says.

Throughout the course of the play, the characters face and address the problems which have erupted around them, but they make no concrete decisions. The audience must find the answers on their own.

“The play does not come up with answers,” Grimaldi says. “It shines a light on issues and causes us to deal with them.”