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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Samuel J. and K.


I'm Samuel Jackson Sanders — Samuel J.
I'm Samuel Kennedy Sanders — Samuel K.
We're brothers! — J. and S.
And you better watch out J.
 Samuel J. and K.
(left to right) J. Mal McCree and Paul Notice
Trentonís Passage Theater is ending their 2010-2011 season on a high with Mat Smartís Samuel J. and K. about two young men who are raised as brothers but are not blood brothers. As this two-character play received its world premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival last year and reviewed there by CurtainUp critic Elyse Sommer, I have only a few additional comments about the play that I found to be the most impressive and compelling new play of the New Jersey theater season. Here's a link to Elyse's Williamstown Review of Samuel J. and K./ Matt Smart.

Without going into the plot, which you can get from Elyseís review, I would like to stress the excellence of Smartís emotionally honest and dramatically compacted script. This is an African-American-themed play that embraces the many different aspects of a difficult and testy relationship over a period of seven years between Samuel K, an adopted son brought over from Africa when he was three and Samuel J who is eight years older. His mother has raised them both without the support of a father who had long ago abandoned the family.

What most impressed me is how concisely the play considers personal, parental, and racial/cultural issues without melodramatic enhancement. Best of all, Smart has also accomplished what many playwrights fail to do: make off-stage characters as vital and alive as the ones we see on stage.

It is possible that some changes in the script have been made and have helped to clarify things that Elyse found wanting. But there is never a moment during in this very moving and perceptive play that had me asking for more than was given. Add to this the excellence of the performing by Paul Notice as Samuel J. and J. Mallory-McCree as Samuel K., the crisp direction by Jade King Carroll, and the strikingly clever and adaptable set by Matthew Campbell that allows for some impressive transitions from the USA to locations in Africa.

As is true of every live performance of a play, our satisfaction comes when we believe what we are seeing as we are seeing it. Notice, who is currently finishing his MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU, that he is also a fine actor and incredibly moving as Samuel J, the older brother who goes to incredible lengths to sustain his tenuous bond with Samuel K.

The performance by Mallory-McCree, a graduate of Rutgers University BFA Theater Conservatory and a member of the Negro Ensemble Company, is also memorable as Samuel K. who matures viscerally and emotionally before our eyes as he begins to understand himself as well as he begins to appreciate Samuel J.ís need to find a place for himself in the world. While Samuel J. and K. was recently produced at Steppenwolf for Young Adults in Chicago, it would be nice to see it done in New York.

Samuel J. and K.
By Mat Smart
Directed by Jade King Carroll

Cast: Paul Notice (Samuel J.), J. Mallory-McCree (Samuel K.)
Set & Props Design: Matthew Campbell
Lighting Design: Charles S. Reece
Costume Design: Robin I. Shane
Sound Design: Karin Graybash
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Passage Theatre at the Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 Front Street, Trenton, N.J.
(609) 392 - 0766
Tickets ($20.00 - $30.00)
Performances: Thurs. - Sat. At 8 PM; Sun. at 3 PM.
Opened: 05/07/11
Ends: 05/22/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 05/07/11
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©Copyright 2011, Elyse Sommer.
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