note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark
by Thomas Gibbons
Directed & Designed by David J. Miller
Lighting Design by Darren Evans
Sound Design by Andy Leviss
Costume Design by Amelia McKinney
Assistant Stage Manager Anne Continelli
Stage Manager Abby Noyce
Shelita Burns...Naeema A. White Peppers
Anna/ Sister Margaret.......Erica Ritton
Libby Price...............Michelle Dowd
Robert/ Interviewer...Michael S. Miller
This will be indeed a "Minority Report". Carl A. Rossi's review covers Thomas Gibbons' script as well and accurately as possible, considering the problem that is presented by several major surprises that must BE surprises in order for the show to have its full effect. And since he has tackled the text, let me try to deal with the actors. And I must first compliment this cast for giving fine performances even though, in my case, the audience numbered ..... four. An audience IS a working member of any cast; the effect of any play depends on that member improvising its role, and these actors did amazingly honest, concentrated, focused work even in such a vacuum.
The play is really a knock-down drag-out argument between Peter Brown and Naeema A. White Peppers that rages beautifully throughout the entire second-act, and it's set up by a breezily brooding mystery-play in act one. Several flash-backs illustrate the book --- a Black Sothron woman's memoire --- that's argued over. All the points scored on both sides here are vital and exciting and often bring new insights to questions of feminism and race. But since it is an argument about ideas, the cast takes pains to keep the characters individual people, instead of puppets in the service of those ideas.
Peter Brown's Sean is a writer passionately defending the integrity of his work. He speaks of giving two whole years to writing a book, and then burning it, page by page, because it felt lifeless to him --- then starting over. He knows his second attempt is good work, and he insists that the editor rejects it not on artistic grounds, but irrelevant political ones. He is both proud and vulnerable at the same time, tentative and apologetic to begin but increasingly angry in defense of his years of work.
Naeemah A. White Peppers is that editor--- a committed partisan of the lost literature of Black women. Her series of reprinted books has finally attracted the attention of a major publishing house. She is a young Black New Yorker feeling her first fame and success, with the possibility of a dream-job at stake. In order to make Shelita Burns real, she balances her own ambitions against protection of the personal integrity that brought her success. Her heels and suits, her familiarity with cocktail-glasses and business politics outlines exactly what sort of life and ambition is on the line here.
That New York life is illustrated in Erica Ritton, as Shelita's admiring and supportive White confidant and friend. Her "Go for it Girl!" attitude embodies the upwardly-mobile New York world. But she also performs a second cameo --- Sister Margaret, who runs a Southern old-age home. This is a plot-device part with little room for serious development.
Michael S. Miller also plays two roles similarly inflected. He has the unenviable task of prompting explication through the first scene as his New York TIMES Interviewer's questions allow Shelita to paint the background for the play. Later he joins the flashbacks for a different kind of background-painting. His White Southerner, employing a Black live-in housekeeper for hidden reasons, must be both sincerely loving and selfless while at the same time unaware of the knee-jerk prejudices of the very town he lives in.
In deep background is Michelle Dowd as that house-keeper and drifter --- the subject of the memoire, a woman with "a soul of smoke" riding, or walking, along an endless railroad-track. In a sense her task is easiest here, since she has played this part in other plays before ("Having Our Say"** for instance). But the lines are repeated two and three times, and each time what has been revealed by the rest of the play colors and reinterprets those very same words until they resonate differently. She brings to her lines an almost singing eloquence; and, since much of what she says illustrates the memoire that eloquent emotion makes it memorable. The Southerners here speak with only a tinge of accent, since it's the clarity of the argument rather than verisimilitude that is paramount.
These actors cannot play to the fullest without the response of an audience. It is a miracle they have made these people real without any response from all but empty houses. The play wrestles with important ideas. The performances are alive. The Zeitgeist Stage Company deserves attention.
First , let me thank both you and Carl for your wonderful reviews of "bee luther hatchee" by Gibbons produced by the Zeitgeist Stage Company (a.k.a David Miller) and your continued support of Boston Theater. I do, however, have to point out that you have credited me with a body of work I did not do. "Having Our Say" was performed, wonderfully I might add, by Kathryn Woods and Jacqui Parker. If I am mistaken for either, I consider that yet another good review!