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CurtainUp DC Review
Slow Dance on the Killing Ground
by Rich See
Everyman Theatre revisits the past to show us the present with William Hanley's 1964 Broadway hit Slow Dance on the Killing Ground. Considered a hard-hitting and forceful social statement at its premiere, Mr. Hanley's work still carries great weight with its advice to courageously face life head on -- making the difficult decisions no matter the consequence. Because as Mr. Hanley points out, we typically come to regret running away in fear. Thus escaping is not really escaping, when we live with the guilt of our choices every day of our lives.
Hanley's story is one that could, all too easily, happen today. On a June night, when most of the commercial block is closed, a New York City candy store owner is reviewing his inventory as a "young gentleman of some color" runs into his store breathless and appearing to be on the lam. The two quickly take stock of each other and begin a verbal "slow dance" to discover the hidden truth the other is carrying. Into this subtle battle walks a lost woman who is engaged in a inward conflict of her own as she plans to terminate her recent pregnancy. Together the three spend the next two hours of their lives pulling together their inward fragments as they hurtle to face their own inward realities.
Director Jennifer L. Nelson and her designers capture that sense of history and a past that shapes our future from the moment of walking into Everyman's space. Ms. Nelson has striven for authenticity in every aspect of this humor-tinged drama; seemingly to encompass the audience and make us look within our own lives and at our own truths.
As the doors open to allow seating, sound designer Chas Marsh greets us with music from the fifties that gradually shifts to slow sixties rock, then as curtain time arrives, the music is intermingled with speeches from John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. Lewis Folden's set is a deliciously gritty candy store, complete with shelves and shelves of confections, an old jukebox and soda cooler, yellowing linoleum floor, antique wall phone, and an outdoor cityscape that rises above the storefront's dirty windows. Barbara Kahl's costumes are on the mark. Mr. Weiman's work clothes are timeless, while Miss Coon's ensemble seems to be vintage 1960's wear. Mr. Price's cape and suit are over the top, as fits his schizophrenic character.
Stan Weiman portrays Mr. Glas with a world weariness that is never off-putting, but is instead somewhat comical -- until you realize the inner truth he has been hiding. As he maneuvers around the set, the injured leg he is nursing becomes a metaphor for the inner pain that he has been dragging with him across two continents and twenty-three years. And even the depth of his revelation doesn't change the sympathy you feel for him when you realize he has been his own worst judge and jury.
As Rosie, Kathleen Coon comes across as both outwardly tough and inwardly uncertain if the course of action she is choosing is the right one. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the emotional impact to the woman must be taken into consideration. And Miss Coon shows us that this was especially important for a woman in 1964 when the medical procedure was illegal and back alley doctors could wreck havoc on a woman's health.
Brandon J. Price shines in the role of Randall the hyperbolic caped stranger who rushes into Mr. Glas' quiet sweet shop. His recitation of New York City homicide statistics is reason enough to see the show. However, the full evidence of Mr. Price's skill as an actor becomes completely apparent mid-way through Act One when Randall's defenses start to crumble.
The production has only a few weak points. Stan Weiman's injured leg seems to shift while Kathleen Coon's New York accent tends to drift. And Randall's mention of a battery-operated toothbrush is strangely odd, but one that seems to be an Everyman inside joke. In addition, the first ten minutes of Act Three ramble, however this third portion is only thirty minutes in length and becomes especially compelling during the last ten minutes as all of the characters' stories are fully revealed.
So Everyman happily offers us a small gem of a play to take home and mull over. Asking us to look within our own lives, at the points where we have run from our own integrity, when our inner courage was telling us to stay and face the world.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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