Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Summer Breeze: A Night of Short Plays"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"SUMMER BREEZE: A NIGHT OF SHORT PLAYS"

by Ed Bullins, Mary M. McCullough and Denise Washington
directed by Jacqui Parker and Stephanie Marson-Lee

“Profiling”
written by Denise Washington
directed by Jacqui Parker
Saudia … Candace Lee

“The Corner”
written by Ed Bullins
directed by Jacqui Parker
Slick … Chris Higgins
Bummie … Lorenzo Hooker
Stella … Karimah Williams
Blue … J. R. Prince
Silly Willy Clark … Elbert Joseph
Cliff Dawson … MC Spice

“Bottom Lines”
written by Mary M. McCullough
directed by Stephanie Marson-Lee
Pooche … Donna Cotterell
Cash … Frank A. Shefton
Niece … Candace Lee

“Clara’s Ole Man”
written by Ed Bullins
directed by Jacqui Parker
Clara … Karimah Williams
Big Girl … Valencia Hughes-Imani
Jack … MC Spice
Baby Girl … Shauday Johnson-Jones
Miss Famie … Candace Lee
Stoogie … Chris Higgins
Bama … Lorenzo Hooker
Hoss … JR Prince
CC … Frank A. Shefton

It is one thing to honor theatre artists; it is another to attend their productions --- now that StageSource has honored actress/playwright/director Jacqui Parker as a Hero, will audiences flock to Roxbury for SUMMER BREEZE, Our Place Company’s current evening of one-act plays or wait until its African American Theatre Festival is more conveniently housed in Boston’s Wimberly Theatre, this upcoming January? Ms. Parker clearly demonstrates a Hero’s devotion in Our Place’s crusade to keep black theatre flourishing in the Boston area; to quote her program notes, “The telling of our stories must stay alive … many folks in the community have told us how important it is to see reflections of themselves on stage, and to celebrate who we are as a people, even when it’s difficult to face our less than perfect selves.” SUMMER BREEZE may indeed offer “less than perfect selves” but I found the evening far more satisfying than the ersatz folklore of THE LION KING and a welcome change of pace from the clichéd iconography dished out by the media. Our Place’s budget may be minimal and some of the acting, especially from its younger members, resembles a baby’s first steps, but the company’s sincerity, anger and sweetness triumph over any critical reservations. The more they do --- and the more they are allowed to do --- the better they will become.

Ed Bullins, a seminal playwright of the 1960s and 70s, is represented with CLARA’S OLE MAN and THE CORNER; both plays sadly, ironically, need little updating in these slices of ghetto life: in THE CORNER, a quartet of youths drink, mouth off to one another and come on to Stella, the neighborhood good-time gal; Stella’s heart belongs to kingpin Cliff who now wants to settle down and raise a family --- unfortunately, not with Stella. The title character in CLARA’S OLE MAN turns out to be Big Girl, a butch lesbian who commands the body and soul of the reluctantly-led Clara; a male admirer of Clara innocently crosses the line and pays the consequences. Both plays end in off-stage violence but are wonderfully leavened by Mr. Bullins’ clear-eyed compassion and a rowdy humor that bounces like the echoes of a boom-box up and down a deserted street. As the ensemble plays numerous roles, Ms. Parker was wise to reserve Valencia Hughes-Imani (Big Girl) and Shauday Johnson-Jones (the mentally-retarded Baby Girl) for CLARA’S OLE MAN, alone; the Mss. Hughes-Imani and Johnson-Jones’ vibrant performances would have been weakened had they been trotted out, beforehand; Chris Higgins as two of Mr. Bullins’ hoods has motor-mouth comic potential and once he relaxes onstage, MC Spice could become a commanding character actor; there’s an intriguing gentleness contrasting with his hulking handsomeness. My only quibble is Ms. Parker pushes Big Girl about the stage, too much --- leaders and tyrants should dominate from the throne rather than wander, Hamlet-like, in sensitive reflection.

Mary M. McCullough’s “Bottom Lines” is an extended sketch set in a run-down shopping mall where Cash, an aging Lord Bountiful with his checkbook, is exposed by his scandalized sister as a con-man with his own spin on capitalism but actor/playwright Frank A. Shefton plays the role with an engaging, raffish charm. The evening’s lesson in prejudice is provided by Denise Washington’s opening monologue “Profiling”: Saudia, a smart, attractive woman goes shopping on Boston’s Newbury Street and is singled out by store security as a potential shoplifter solely on the basis of her skin color. Candace Lee subtly makes her points by draining Saudia’s personality as racial realization settles in, her buoyant warmth giving way to a freezing sullenness --- one can imagine all of Newbury Street turning rancid to Saudia, after that. Mr. Bullins closes the evening with his timeless CLARA’S OLE MAN; between the Mss. Washington and Lee, it memorably begins with Saudia’s short, swift rabbit punch.

HELP SAVE BOSTON’S HISTORIC GAIETY THEATRE!

"Summer Breeze: A Night of Short Plays" (19-28 August)
THE OUR PLACE THEATRE PROJECT INC.
3134 Washington Street, Egleston Square, ROXBURY, MA
1 (617) 989-9235 / 1 (617) 442-4425

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