“Mr. Glass” Returns to Phillips Academy

Performing his one-man show, “Mr. Glass,” Jonathan Dent ’05 explored racism and identity through personal experiences and humor. Dent, a Phillips Academy and Brown University alumnus, presented his one-man show as part of Af-Lat-Am’s Black Arts Weekend’s festivities. Dent detailed his journey of self-identification by taking on different personas and touching on serious issues that pertained to race. “I’m trying to portray how necessary it is for people to be honest about issues that make them uncomfortable and race for me has been one of the most uncomfortable things for me to deal with, and face in my life, and this show has given me a way of articulating that with strangers and hopefully reaching some place of revelation with them,” said Dent. Each time Dent revealed an experience relating to racism, he added water to a glass that was balanced delicately on a stool, thus the name of the show “Mr. Glass.” During the show, Dent recalled his first encounter with the word “n*****.” The audience were stunned into silence when Dent acted out the scene between two private school children, his thirteen-year-old self and an eighth grader who insulted him. “When the boy called him the N-word, [I thought] it was the most striking because it was his first realization that the world is different. I feel like it had a strong impact on general race motivated abuse, so I feel like I understood it,” said Christopher Amendano ’13. Dent fervently asked the entire audience, “How many of you consider yourself a racist?” Quietly and uneasily, only a few hands went up at this heavily distressing and powerful question. Dent went on to explain his controversial definition of racism. “If you think anything ill towards a particular race of people, if you clock within yourself that a certain race sets off a chain of emotions in you that are not positive, that’s racist,” said Dent. “[His performance] made people a little uncomfortable and I think that makes it a good show if it makes people stop and think about the way they act,” said Casey Durant ’14. Despite the heavy content of the show, Dent also introduced many comical acts that lightened the mood of the performance. One of his acts provided laughter and addressed the struggles of African American actors in Hollywood. To illustrate his point, he switched between the personas of an African American actor and a director. In the persona of the director, Dent said, “You need to sound blacker. Give me some of that black brilliance.” Dent, as the actor, would humorously and accurately capture many accents, including the wildly popular Jamaican accent. It was not until Dent threw in black hip hop nuances, cursing and anger at the world that the Director was finally satisfied. At this moment, the room dramatically switched to an eerie silence. “I like that he presented this because it was new information for some of our students that still think it’s an equal playing field everywhere you go,” said Linda Griffith, Director of Andover’s CAMD office. Dent’s performance also addressed that the issue of race is two sided and how important it was to understand both perspectives. Later in the show, Dent portrayed his high school transformation at Phillips Academy. He depicted himself and his insular African American friends and genuinely expressed racial and acceptance struggles through adolescence. As he eventually formed a “wolf pack” with his friends, Dent opened students up to his regrets for not taking advantage of resources here and caging himself in. “They were very relatable ideas and themes,” said Ijeoma Ejiogu ’11. “As a student and as an African American student, I’ve definitely had to deal with some of the decisions that Dent had to make,” said Ejiogu. Dent concluded “Mr. Glass” by drinking the glass of metaphorical struggles. “[Dent’s performance] was very dynamic and fluid, which I guess is sort of like his own identity. It was really an energetic and visceral performance,” said Nick Tonckens ’12. Following his performance, Dent greatly stressed his ideas of race and identity through a lengthy question and answer session. “I think it’s pretty important that different races and different genders get together and have honest conversations. People don’t like talking about this because it’s terrifying, but I know that these conversations are the seeds of something,” said Dent. He continued, “I like to make people uncomfortable and I like to make people squirm because that means something is happening that they don’t like and they hit a wall. But it’s all about hitting that wall and climbing it. You’ve got to get to the other side.” Dent’s performance of “Mr. Glass” forced people to hit a wall of realization through extreme discomfort, and proved to be a learning experience for many. “A lot of people don’t think or recognize how race can be such an important piece of one’s identity, and Jonathan displays that in his show. And the fact that although some of us think we’re in a post racial America, his piece illustrates that we’re not. And that’s a long time coming if ever,” said Griffith.