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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
By Chesley Plemmons
True, it has an engaging cast and a colorful, perfectly detailed set by James Schuette of a well stocked backwoods grocery store. Tthe first act — a leisurely hour and a quarter long— is a familiar “reunion” of misaligned friends and lovers. The store is called “Good Goods,” and is set in a small black town “that doesn’t appear on any map.” Presumably this vagueness of locale along with a suspended sense of time – several decades are suggested - is meant to conjure up a piney woods Brigadoon.
Stacey (Clifton Duncan), a handsome young black man returns to his family roots, after his father, who owns the business, suddenly takes off leaving the store in the care of his trusted friend, Truth (Marc Damon Johnson). Hot on Stacey’s trail is Patricia (de ‘Adre Aziza), his former lover and partner in a musical show business act. Ostensively, her return to this otherworldly hamlet is to share a birthday celebration with her twin, Wire (Kyle Beltran). As a further note on the twists of ordinary details, they were born minutes apart and thus on different days. In reality, she is still emotionally attached to Stacey and wants him to return to their act – and bed.
Wire, who has been languishing at home, is eager to break his bonds and share in the drug and alcohol existence his friend and sister seem to enjoy.Their three-way relationship is made even more sensitive by a secret which is hinted at briefly in an early private scene between the two young men.
Accompanying Patricia is a precocious young runaway bride named Sunny (Angela Lewis) she befriended in the bus terminal. Shades of Trip to Bountiful! Sunny is one of those live wire creatures that seem to fascinate Southern writers. Filled with a reckless life force and an aura of impending tragedy, she captures the attention and lust of Truth right off the bat.
All of this is presented in a spirited manner with the female characters much more vibrant than the men. Aziza gives a playful and sexy performance as a lady who knows what she wants and will employ all her wiles to get it while Lewis is annoying, but completely in character, as the Lolita-like catalyst in the unspoken sexual games afoot. She’s even better in the second act when she assumes the persona of Emekah, the recently deceased factory worker who ends up in her body.
The second act is a radical turnaround from the reunion comedy/drama of the first. Your perchance for the world of the supernatural will determine whether you find it a satisfactory reckoning of the story’s threads. The rearranging of romantic partners involves some sexual twists that are only halfway believable.
Tina Landau has directed with finesse, drawing out of this odd assortment of misfits touching portraits of hearts in turmoil. Duncan is especially fine in the emotional resolution of the play as is Beltran, and Johnson as a kind of odd man out gives a sure, understated performance. Adjepong makes the most of his exotic opportunities as the local “witch doctor” as does Lewis as the “possessed” Sunny. Production elements are excellent with costumes by Toni-Leslie James aptly bridging the outside world with the story’s mossy environs.
On the negative side, the language is excessively raw and suggests that profanity is definitely king over poetry in this unnamed part of the South. Also, the playwright’s insistence on unnecessary vagueness ends up being more evasive than mysterious.
Upcoming productions: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (March 16-April 7), The Realistic Jones by Will Eno (world premiere) (April 20-May 12).