9 January '04
It just occurred to me why this column is late --- at least this time:
What right have I to review a play when I come in late and miss the beginning?
For one reason or another I rushed into the theatre late for three of the four shows I've seen so far this year, and I want to apologize to those casts and directors that fact insults. I know what I think, having got to a play early enough to sit, relax, and perhaps even look over some points in the program, when late-comers break the mood by scuttling guiltily into their seats. When I have been late, in the past, I have usually waited out the first act or first scene at the back of the auditorium, so as not to disturb that dialogue between play and audience which is the essence of theater. It's so easy to distract not only the viewers, but also the actors themselves.
I remember once, out in the Stockbridge summer theatre, watching a party of six shuffle into their first-row seats ten or fifteen minutes into the show. In the act-break, a theater-professional I knew said "It was worth the admission just to watch Hume Cronyn drop his cigarette-ashes on all those rude people who came in late!" And it was true! Playing a grandfather, he none the less made a stage-right-to-left cross downstage, delivering his line with his smoking cigarette held out in his twitching right hand.
When I barge in, no doubt breathless and blinded in the dark, I really think I deserve the same contemptuous treatment.
On two of the occasions, it was abominable bus service and worse taxi service that was to blame, but when I set out for the Youth Center in Eggleston Square where The Our Place Theatre Project is still doing its AFRICAN AMERICAN THEATRE FESTIVAL, I really Thought I knew the way, and I got lost. (I probably failed Geography throughout my school career!.)
That meant I missed the beginning of Mary Milner McCullough's play "Sorry Don't Fix It" and had to guess at some plot-points from what came later. And that puts an unfair burden on a new play.(It will play again on 20, 21 & 22 January. Go see it!)
It's an intense and complicated family play, with a school-smart high-schooler jealous of her dad's doting on her much younger brother, and mother taking pains to protect her hard-working husband's pride as head of household. That's the pressure-cooker into which the girl (a math wiz)lets a white BMOC ghost-write an English Class essay that would give her the straight-A's to outshine brother. It's apparently a "highly dramatic" internet-steal that gets the teacher, the principal and the Department of Social Services convinced Dad is sexually abusing his daughter!
Yes, the plot itself is "highly dramatic" and based on a lot of dumb decisions and mistakes --- but that gives the playwright latitude to examine a whole lot of Black/White and Black-Family issues, without losing sight of the humanity of her characters. The play might benefit from one more re-write, and the cast from another week of rehearsal; but no one allowed any compromise with the gritty material nor the realistic situations and language. This is a play with legs.
The second play on the bill was a new one from Frank Shefton called "Wounds" that took the same uncompromising look at drug-dealing gangbangers, but with a much more intense focus. The story is about the results of a "pre-emptive strike" against a rival drug-gang, designed to steal their newer, more powerful arsenal of streetsweepers before they escalate the bloodshed in their turf wars. (Where was it I heard someone advocating "Pre-emtive Warfare" over weaponry on the radio lately?) Keedar Whittle played the gang leader whose half-wit getaway-driver (Jason A. Cross) blew it, leaving the leader's side-kick (Chris Joel Higgins) near death with a bullet close to his spine.
Take him to a hospital --- which would save his life --- and get them all arrested?
Instead he takes him to a dental clinic in the 'hood where he actually knows the woman on duty (Michelle M. Aguillon) --- and she knows him. She knew his proud parents who pushed him into medical-school, and once she sees who he was and what he's become her contempt for a waste of self becomes the motor of confrontation. His final decision, fraught with compelling subtext, is probably the best compromise in an impossible situation.
Both plays are, in the best sense of the word, preachy. They deal with situations right out of real life, and make a clear moral stand on the consequences of bad behavior. And the details in both cases are as realistic as today's headlines.
The festival includes a second set of one-acts (13,14 & 15 January) and a full-evening musical "I Want to Sing" (16, 17, 18 & 23, 24, 25 January). And, now that I've spread rocks instead of crumbs along the route (The bleepin' crows ALWAYS eat the crumbs!) I bet I'll know how to find them! See you there??
( a k a larry stark )