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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jana J. Monji
Hansberry's tale is about an extended family waiting for a life insurance check after the death of the unseen father. The mother, Lena (Carol Dennis), hopes to buy a house and pay for her daughter Beneatha's (Anne Thomas) medical aspirations. Lena's son, Walter (Michael A. Shepperd) has other plans that ultimately lead to a crisis.
Robert Nemiroff (Hansberry's husband) and Charlotte Saltzberg trimmed the original script, taking out some of the dramatic content and adding the comical. Where Hansberry confined her action to the cramped quarters of the family's apartment, Nemiroff and Saltzberg take the family out--to a bar where big brother Walter makes his doomed deal and to the church for some uplifting gospel.
Judd Woldin's music and Robert Brittan's lyrics aren't particularly memorable. Nothing to leave you humming.
Dennis was a last-minute replacement after the sudden death of Nell Carter in mid-January. So determined was ICT artistic director Shashin Desai and co-director Caryn Desai to have the show carry on, they didn't even postpone the Feb. 7. opening and have dedicated all the performances to Carter. Dennis doesn't falter a minute as the long-suffering matriarch, but this production's problems don't lie with the women--all strong, both musically and dramatically.
Shepperd's Walter lacks the emotional depth and clearly defined shifts of character. Whether drunk when he's happy or sober due to a change of events, it's all hard to decipher for Shepperd doesn't aptly convey these transitions. We must depend upon the dialogue to clue us in.
Terron Brooks, who portrays the Nigerian Joseph Asagai, Beneatha's love interest, isn't convincingly foreign. His singing voice isn't as rich and full-bodied as Thomas,' leaving us disappointed with the duets. At times, some of the cast members' lines are little more than linguistic mush due to the lack of enunciation.
Brian Paul Mendoza's choreography is serviceable but the actual realization is neither sharp nor capable of forwarding the plot in any manner. Don Llewellyn's set design is handsome, yet despite the well-planned dinginess, the apartment seems much too spacious. The kitchen seems large instead of cramped. The living space is tidy in its shabbiness, but also open and airy. We don't get the feeling of people living on top of other people. The main inconvenience is the shared bathroom.
The Desais mostly hold the delicate balance between the more humorous interludes and the darker moments, but in the end, the work itself is a pale shadow of the straight play. While it's a shame that Carter didn't get to shine on stage with maternal nobility, it's also a shame that this musical doesn't pack the same emotional punch of the original and leaves the audience with little more than a few forgettable tunes.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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