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A CurtainUp DC Review

Tales of survival told in the key of the Blues —/guitarist on entering the stage for the opening.
Marty Austin Lamar (Photo by Christopher Mueller)n
What an interesting woman Zora Neale Hurston must have been. Her life, which began in 1891 in the rural south, continued through the sophistication of New York City, particularly during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, to her death in 1960, as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to gain momentum. She was a folklorist and an anthropologist, both studies she put to good use in her writing.

Spunk, now playing at Signature Theatre, is comprised of three of her short stories— "Sweat," "Story in Harlem Slang," and "The Gilded Six-Bits" — adapted and directed originally by George C. Wolfe and directed in this version by Timothy Douglas. The music of which there is far too little is by Chic Street Man. An evening of his compositions would be a treat but here they are used solely as entr'acte connective tissue and the occasional thrum of a guitar, by Jonathan Mosley-Perry, to emphasize a point.

The cleverness of the script is that it does not make any concessions to contemporary feminism, metooism, in fact any 'isms. It tells it like it was in plain African-American vernacular of a particular time and place — the beginning to middle of the last century. Even though the show is in Signature Theatre's intimate Black Box some of the dialogue was lost on me. Maybe the problem is the unfamiliar language and the speed with which it is delivered. I did however get some of the priceless one-liners such as "even conversation collapsed under the heat," and the comment on a rather large woman looking like "she had six months in front and nine months behind." (You couldn't get away with that today.)

The first story is of an unhappy married couple. She's afraid of snakes and he, being a bully, takes advantage of that. The second is set in Harlem where two men swaggering around town, comment on the ladies they see and keep. The third story,"Three Gilded Six-Bits," by far the best, tells of a married couple with issues that get resolved happily.

Iyona Blake as Blues Speak Woman has a splendid voice and Ines Nassara as Folk Woman is pleasing as the taunted wife, the pretty girl, and the happy mother. Marty Austin Lamar as Folk Man Two, plays a larger than life pimp with humor and Drew Drake is very sweet in the parts that he plays, particularly as the father of Folk Woman's baby. Kenyatta Rogers, Folk Man One, at times overdoes his scenes which can be distracting.

All-in-all, this is a very pleasant slice of African-American life, of a certain genre and era, that is not seen often enough.

For a review of a Barrington Stage production back in 1999 go here.

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Based on three tales by Zora Neale Hurston
Adapted and originally directed by George C. Wolfe
Music by Chic Street Man
Cast: Iyona Blake (Blues Speak Woman); Jonathan Mosley-Perry (Guitar Man); KenYatta Rogers (Folk Man One); Marty Austin Lamar (Folk Man Two); Drew Drake (Folk Man Three); Ines Nassara (Folk Woman).
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Signature Theatre,; performances April 30 to June 23, 2019.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at May 9 performance.

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