Theatre Mirror Reviews - "409 Edgecombe Avenue: The House on Sugar Hill"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


"409 EDGECOMBE AVENUE: THE HOUSE ON SUGAR HILL"

by Katherine Butler Jones
directed by Akiba Abaka

Madame Stephanie St. Clair … Fulani Haynes
St. Clair’s Henchman; Mr. Braithwaite … Rocque Bridgewaters
Nathan … Michael Nurse
Wilber … Santo Cupon
Meme Clark … Ramona Alexander
Grandmother … Deama Battle
James Jones … Eric Daley
Gladys White … Pamela Lambert
Madam Futtam … Lau Papides
Eunice Carter … Christina Marie Bynoe
Sufi Hamid … Keith Mascoll

409 EDGECOME AVENUE: THE HOUSE ON SUGAR HILL, courtesy of Up You Mighty Race, is Katherine Butler’s Jones’ lengthy history about her former Harlem address, now a designated landmark, and the people who lived there in the 1930s and 40s; in this, her first play, Ms. Jones alternates between the powerful Mme. St. Clair who ran a numbers racket and faced stiff competition from the mob and everyday life at the 409 where Nathan the doorman and Wilbur the elevator man gossip in the lobby, the tenants come and go through the glass doors (the same doors through which the audience enters) and where the elevator arrow always points to the third floor (Mme. St. Clair), the eighth floor (Meme Clark, a hairdresser-confidante) or the thirteenth floor (the snooty Gladys White); other tenants include Sufi Hamid, who marries Mme. St. Clair but soon strays, and Attorney Eunice Carter who clashes with Mme. St. Clair on legal vs. illegal issues as well as their contrasting backgrounds (American Negro vs. Caribbean Negro). Thus the evening rambles despites its smart, well-researched dialogue, and Ms. Jones is determined to have Mme. St. Clair remembered as a forgotten Great American (albeit a dubious one), her chosen path being one of necessity rather than vaulting ambition --- there is no bridge between this tigress and the wide-eyed innocent, in flashback, being given a charm before departing for America; even her being sentenced for attempted murder becomes a cry of injustice, instead. Only the St. Clair-Eunice scenes strike sparks, especially when the former offers to join the latter in cleaning up their neighborhood --- sadly, a premise soon dropped --- ah, what drama could have been wrung from such a pairing!

As conceived, Mme. St. Clair is all mask and furs but Fulani Haynes polishes her surface to a dazzling shine; Christina Marie Bynoe is such ballsy fun as Eunice that it’s a pity she doesn’t have more to do, and Michael Nurse is warm and golden as the all-seeing, mostly-all-knowing Nathan; I’ve seen Mr. Nurse on past stages and he remains a welcome presence, anywhere, anytime. Peter Colao has transformed the Plaza Theatre into a tundra of simulated floor-tiles, giving 409 EDGECOMBE AVENUE an epic, timeless quality --- even the elevator with its glowing green interior becomes fascinating, after awhile --- but, oh, that one set-piece that comes thundering at you in the dark, not once, but repeatedly!

"409 Edgecombe Avenue" (5 - 21 April)
UP YOU MIGHTY RACE
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1(617) 427-9417

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