note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Yvonne … Nydia Calón
Jeff; Tim Dunn … Gabriel Field
Pat … Michelle Dowd
Neil … Keedar Whittle
Latisha … Chantel Nicole Bibb
Jessica Dunn … Caryn Andrea Lindsey
Detective; Ensemble … W. Yvonne Murphy
Reporter; Ensemble … Kortney Adams
Gangbanger; Ensemble … Kaili Turner
Tracey Scott Wilson’s THE STORY immediately grabs and holds your attention during its ninety minutes of life but the abandonment of New Orleans’ stranded black population in the wake of Hurricane Katrina had added a fresh, immediate slant on America’s racism that makes THE STORY seem routine in comparison (ABYSSINIA, which opened at Boston’s Shubert Theatre before Katrina struck, now becomes a true fantasy with its happy sharecroppers surviving their own hurricane through song-and-dance, alone). Ms. Wilson’s drama revolves around Yvonne, an ambitious African-American journalist who joins the staff of “Outlook”, the upbeat black community section of the Daily newspaper. Yvonne hopes to break into mainstream journalism at the Metro with One Big Story and pursues her dream when a white man is shot and killed in a black neighborhood; she is further fueled by a schoolgirl named Latisha who confesses that she pulled the fatal trigger. Latisha later recants her confession, forcing Yvonne to choose between telling the truth or saving her professional skin. Ms. Wilson bases THE STORY on the Janet Cooke journalism scandal of 1981 and balances her debate, all around: Yvonne feels she is under no obligation to be black for black’s sake whereas her boss Pat believes that a united community is the best weapon against racism; Yvonne has a white boyfriend Jeff who works at the Metro --- their relationship, while affectionate, may also have double-motives (hers: ambition / his: sexual titillation); Latisha, a well-educated black girl in an all-white boarding school, gets herself into hot water by playing up to the ghetto image that her schoolmates have assigned to her. Ms. Wilson uses overlapping cinematic techniques so that the results become truly theatrical (it could never be filmed, as is) and, again, you are fascinated by all the soapboxing but Katrina has put in her oar and THE STORY plays like yesterday’s news.
The Zeitgeist production, though, is riveting. This is David J. Miller’s truest direction of actors --- the proof lies in bodies ever circling around a desk but always being watchable --- and he has turned the Black Box into a clever collage of office furniture with newspapers as the rugs and wallpaper. This is also the finest Zeitgeist ensemble thus far with the actors going at it hammer-and-tong without lapsing into mere noise --- the characters may turn strident but never the actors (there is a difference). Nydia Calón’s Yvonne strikes the right balance between black anger and white wannabee and Ms. Calón is solid enough in both departments to take on playwrights of all colors with equal ease. Michelle Dowd is such a wonderful character actress that I would be satisfied with her reciting from the Yellow Pages but the role of Pat allows Ms. Dowd plenty of set pieces for a stage presence so reminiscent of the late Ethel Waters, and Chantel Nicole Bibb’s Latisha is an unforgettable portrait of poisoned playfulness.
On the afternoon I attended, the Black Box auditorium was half-full, which makes THE STORY a hit compared to the poor showing for Zeitgeist’s excellent BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE, three seasons ago --- placing THE STORY’s audience against the well-attended houses for ABYSSINIA shows how Boston, which is, at heart, a segregated town, prefers its social issues: sunny side up.