Although the play "Spinning Into Butter" was written in 1999, its theme of racism couldn't be more timely today, says the director of a production that will be staged three times this weekend at Oregon State University.

"We often in the cast and the company talk about how it's such a shame and a tragedy that a play that was written 18 years ago still feels like it could've come out of the headlines from within the last 20 minutes," said director Scott Palmer of Bag&Baggage Productions.

OSU's College of Engineering is sponsoring three free performances of Rebecca Gilman's play Saturday and Sunday in Room 200 of the Learning Innovation Center on campus. Each performance will be followed by a talk-back session, led by Palmer and cast members.

Palmer, who is the founding artistic director of the Hillsboro-based Bag&Baggage Productions, said the play features issues of appropriateness, racism, and white privilege.

Its story takes place on the campus of a fictional college in Vermont, where one of the college's only African-American students starts receiving hate mail, and has a rock thrown through his window.

"The predominantly white faculty and administration ends up having to deal with the fallout of these racist incidents," Palmer said.

The dean of students, a member of the history faculty and an art professor — all progressive, liberal-minded academics, are tasked with deciding what to do, while dealing with their own internalized racism, Palmer said.

"The play is really an opportunity for white people to take a look at their own assumptions and attitudes, and to have a really open and honest conversation with themselves about what racism means for a predominantly white culture," he said.

"For us it's really just a conversation starter," Palmer said of the play.

"These are characters that certainly people in Corvallis and around campus are going to identify with. There's young college students, faculty members and academic administrators," he said.

Palmer, who used to teach in the theater and speech communications departments at Oregon State, said he is familiar with the campus community.

The small college in the play reminds him of OSU, and the theater group is grateful that it was invited to perform at the university.

"There are definitely parallels between that location and OSU, and we're super-excited to see how people react and feel about it," Palmer said.

"I also know in the past few months there have been pretty controversial events that have happened around campus dealing with race relations, and in some ways this feels like a perfectly appropriate time to open this dialogue," he added.