Theatre Mirror Reviews - "103 Within the Veil"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Kirsten Greenidge
directed by Victoria Marsh

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

The world premiere of Kirsten Greenidge’s bio-collage 103 WITHIN IN THE VEIL honors Hubert Collins, an obscure African-American photographer who played out his life as a Boston janitor, dying in 1966; ten years later, a box of one hundred and three glass negatives was discovered in Mr. Collins’ basement; the photographed subjects: dignified, well-dressed African-Americans from the early 20th century. There are few known facts about Mr. Collins and if I declare 103 WITHIN THE VALUE to be “interesting”, at best, I do so because Ms. Greenidge has chosen to pad the evening than draw upon what does remain: the images, themselves. Thus, her photographer is little more than a frustrated blank --- Cliff Odle, as Mr. Collins, has little to do but to watch the others and utter mysterious things --- and the plot thread is shared between three snooping children who discover the box of negatives (one of them time-travels to converse with Mr. Collins) and Virg, a friendly, politically-outspoken young woman struck in fast-food jobs (complete with tacky uniforms) who is psychically compelled to resurrect Mr. Collins as an historical corrective. Virg may be the designated driver, but the evening’s strength rests on the period characters modeled upon the tableaus: an overly reflective friend who, among other things, predicts Mr. Collins’ failure; a pair of girls squabbling in their Sunday best; a young married couple at a crossroads in their lives; a Barbados boy posed in clothes too large for him; two graduating nurses destined to serve in a second-rate, “colored” hospital. By speaking their various minds, these characters shine a beacon in a little-known corner of Boston’s history, well-hidden by Time and ignored in the history books (at least, the history books from my own school days) --- pity that Ms. Greenidge could not have been inspired more by the art than the artist.

The Company One production may not fly in its juxtaposition of past and present --- its episodes are punctuated with a drum to simulate camera flashes --- but the actors are good. Nowhere in Ramona Alexander’s funny, funky Virg will you find her buttoned-up churchwoman in JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE or her deadly hell-cat from BREATH, BOOM; here’s a fine chameleon, indeed. Akiba Abaka, who shaped JOE TURNER’S actors into an Addison-winning ensemble, plays two roles with a dainty huffiness that could lead to marvelous dowagers; eleven-year-old Khalil Flemming has twice proven his skill in classical declamation but is awkward at playing an everyday boy; and James Milord’s smooth technique keeps the talkative friend’s art-house monologues from going under. Wen-ti Tsen has come up with an arresting arrangement of hanging sheets upon which to project Mr. Collins’ images; Ms. Greenidge may not have captured her subject but at least the audience can spend a few hours in his fascinating hall of mirrors.

"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