A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "101 Within The Veil"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Larry Stark

"103 Within The Veil"

by Kirsten Greenidge
Directed by Victoria Marsh

Set & Projection Design by Wen-ti Tsen
Costume Design by Joy Adams
Sound Design by Frank A. Shefton
Lighting Design by Jason Freimark
Production Photographer Craig Bailey
Technical Director Mark Abby VanDerzee
Historical Consultant Kerri Greenidge
Production Manager Shawn LaCount
Assistant Stage Manager Jill Domings
Stage Manager Sarah Cohan

Virg..................Ramona Alexander
Hubert......................Cliff Odle
Beatrice/Mary..............Akiba Abaka
Lydia/Nan.................Kaili Turner
Hall/Hammond..............James Milord
Flip/Pete..............Khalil Flemming
Erline/Minnie...........Andrea Fleurant
Eva Suzanne...............Taylor Parker

What on earth does Company One have to do to get recognition of their high artistic standards, their eager embrace of work that is new, their edgy risk-taking, their co-operative approach to making shows, and their commitment to plays that Mean something and to forthright social values? On no more money than anyone else their shows --- from "Rash Acts" in 2001 to "A Clockwork Orange" last year --- have always displayed careful detail and artistic polish. They did a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis --- and featuring Vincent Ernest Sanders --- before SpeakEasy Stage. Their productions of "Twilight: Los Angeles" and "Spell #7" (among others) opened their doors to minority actors in solidly professional, uncompromising roles, and in "Boston Fringe" they opened their stage to seven small, provocative local companies to showcase their work. Now, moving from the BCA to the Boston Playwrights' Theatre they are doing an original play by Kirsten Greenage (which they commissioned), about the Black experience here in Boston, that the GLOBE could again call "Radical, dangerous and exciting" yet they are still playing to lots of empty seats. What will it take? A Musical, for Ghod's sake???

"103 Within The Veil" is a play concerning dignity and recognition. The playwright began with a box-full of photo-portraits of ordinary Black people, discvered in an abandoned building in 1976, ten years after the photographer died leaving no information about his life or himself --- though his pictures are alive with detail, physical and emotional, about his subjects.

The play is non-linear (That means it ain't got no plot!), flitting from figure to figure as actors, re-creating people in the photos, give voice to what may have been on their minds at the time. These vignettes --- from a pair of nurses graduating and arguing the implications of a new Negro Hospital here in Boston, to a couple arguing whether she should take a job now they have a new son, to a giddy pair of kids cutting up in their white dresses, to an effete elegant snob applying abstruse philosophy to everyday affairs. These mosaic-pieces are one layer of Greenidge's play.

Another has the photographer himself (Hubert Collins was his name) sitting with an intense, silent frown at his subjects, or laconically insisting to his wife that he's not really an Artist --- though he is easily, repeatedly distracted by the song of a bird.

Yet another layer follows the excited, apprehensive banter of three kids sneeking into an abandoned house who actually find those photographs (which are now a highly prized exhibit illustrating Black life of the period at Boston's Museum of Afro American History).

The actual photographs are projected on several huge white muslin banners hung irregularly over the stage that give the audience an opportunity to compare the actors' presentations of them with the figures and faces of the people themselves.

What binds this spread of images and scenes together is the repeated intrusion of a contemporary Black chick, a fast-food clerk with attitude and a high-gear motor-mouth who lectures the audience (stand-ins for her customers) in uppity street-terms about flavorizing chemicals ("They make'um some place in JERzy") that make people think fast-food is good food but it ain't. And that's just a metaphor for all them Social Pressures makin' folks, mos'ly Black folks, believe their lives are as good as they gonna get an' tha's fine, when evabody Knows That ain't true neither. She intrudes repeatly --- each time in a different, more outlandish "Uniform" 'cause what else kinda job a Black teen can get 'cept sellin' this (Ugh!) fast food stuff? --- getting in your face and personal and insisting what people, Black people mos'ly, need is recognition and dignity. Hell, maybe if that Hubert Collins cat had got recognition as the good photographer he was he might have maintained his dignity, and his obituary would have recognized him as an artist, instead of merely as a building suprintendant.

Kirsten Greenidge's play recognizes, works with, amplifies the fact that Collins' work and not his life is the only important thing we know about him. It refuses to become a fantasy-recreation of him, refuses to be a documentary film, and does, live on the Boston Playwrights' stage, what a movie might try to do --- only much, much better.

After all, it's a Company One production --- and they never do anything by half.

If their next play IS a musical, I want to see it!


"103 Within the Veil" (20 January ­- 5 February)
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (866) 811-4111

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide