note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Beverly Creasey
Reviewed by Beverly Creasey
Even if prison plays are not your cup of tea, you should see Boston Theatre Works' "Coyote on A Fence". It is much more theatrical than "Breath, Boom" and it has a fascinating moral dilemma at its core: Once you're on death row, do you fight the execution or resign yourself to the idea that you are going to die?
Bruce Graham gets his licks in on both sides of the death penalty debate, leaving the audience to decide for itself. But the drama in "Coyote" lies in prison life, not DEATH. This is a Pygmalion story of sorts, with a crusty older inmate who befriends a young murderer in spite of himself. As John Brennan --- Fred Robbins in a brilliant turn --- begins to advocate for Bobby (Barlow Adamson in a tour de force performance) we see he never stood a chance in life. Graham gives us two more angles to shift our perspective: he introduces a hardbitten guard (Bobbi Steinbach makes her all too human) and a liberal journalist (Peter Papadopoulos in a rivetting portrayal) --- all of which add up to exciting theater. Director Nancy Curran Willis doesn't pull any punches. These are not innocent men by any means --- but Curran Willis lets us see what makes them tick.
Kudos to Ruth Neeman for her stunning prison set and to Deb Sullivan for her evocative lighting --- especially as one man dies...and when the bars cast a cross shadow on the skinhead as he tells his chilling story of a multiple murder. Everything from Peter Boynton's white noise to Molly Trainer's exacting costumes makes "Coyote" one play not to be missed.
The Huntington Theatre has taken a bold step in presenting Kia Corthron's "Breath, Boom". This highly abrasive drama owes more to gritty cable shows like HBO's :Oz" than it does to modern therater. "Breath, Boom" follows an abused child through her teen years in a gang, trhrough her adult years in prison, up to her parole at age thirty.
The story is familiar to television audiences: A gifted young girl --- she excells at chemistry and history: not only can she make her own fireworks, she knows about their Chinese origin --- is not safe at home. Her alcoholic mother's abusive boyfriend molests her so she finds safety and belonging in a gang where she learns its good to be bad.
Bad bad Leroy Brown may have hidden a razor blade in his shoe, but these girls are so bad they carry them in their cheeks, and guns in their jackets. Like the characters imprisoned at "Oz" they value violence and machismo above all else. There really aren't any fireworks in the script --- except for the psychedelic light show at the play's close --- but the characters are compelling.
Jacqui Parker gives a heartbreaking performance as the alcoholic mother who craves a connection with her daughter --- and gets one in the play's best scene --- and wonderful comic relief is provided by Ramona Alexander and Chinasa Ogbuaga, and by Jan Leslie Harding who gets the play's best line --- about the lack of role models in prison.