note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Dutch … Naeemah A. White-Peppers
Patrice … Renita Martin
Asha … Abria Smith
Ms. Earline … Michelle Dowd
How could it be that decades of queer theater have not produced a terrific portrayal of friendship between two butches? --- Abe Rybeck, Artistic Director for Theatre Offensive
* * *
Mr. Rybeck remedies his own question with the world premiere of Letta Neely’s LAST RITES, a celebration of the lifelong friendship between Dutch and Patrice, two butch lesbians: they have known each other since childhood, played basketball and chased girls together and been there for each other through good times and bad; Patrice is now dying of cancer and has moved into Dutch’s apartment to end her days, there. Dutch tries to keep up Patrice’s weight, rubs ointment on a head already bald from chemotherapy, and cleans up after her diarrhea attacks. They recollect their bad-ass days (Patrice is a former addict; Dutch was always clean); they have a falling out over Asha, a mutual girlfriend; Dutch brings in Asha and Patrice’s Bible-thumping mother in hopes of final reconciliations --- in the end, Dutch and Patrice will hang together down to the finish line.
Ms. Neely has written a tough, funny play without apology or sensation and I was greatly entertained once I figured out who was who and what was what (LAST RITES begins in your face and stays there) and the evening is brought to blazing life by Renita Martin whose Patrice will not go out quietly: she is coarse, sly, thieving, yet pitbull-loyal and brutally honest about herself as well as others and she is matched, fire by fire, by Abria Smith as the ever-shifting girlfriend who has slid back into a cocaine-fueled lifestyle. I continue to have fond memories of Michelle Dowd from Zeitgeist Stage’s BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE, for which I awarded her an Addison, and was glad to see her again, even in the thankless role of Patrice’s mother which benefits greatly from Ms. Dowd’s majestic presence.
Naeemah A. White-Peppers is Dutch, cast by Life as the Best Friend. A Zeitgeist regular, Ms. White-Peppers now has two Boston theatre awards under her belt yet remains a gut actress: when engaged or provoked for the moment, she can be riveting; otherwise, she stands outside her own performances, a symbolic finger in her mouth. With Ms. Martin prodding her on, Act One plays out splendidly between them; for much of Act Two, Ms. White-Peppers --- and, thus, Dutch --- tends to fade away. Then there is the matter of diarrhea: Ms. Neely need not have written it in (it adds little to the plot) but she has and it must be dealt with in full view of the audience. Ms. White-Peppers strips Ms. Martin below the waist but one swipe of a washcloth that comes away clean reduces an all-too-realistic moment to gimmickry. Since Dutch changes Patrice’s soiled diaper while the latter is sprawled on a gleaming couch, Ms. White-Peppers should at least spread a towel beneath Ms. Martin before opening the floodgates.