Two very different types of human interaction were the subjects of Levy Lee Simon's Two One Acts at the 42nd Street Workshop, and both benefited from superior performances.
"Men are dogs," Efay (Kimmarie Bowens) announces early on in The Stuttering Preacher, and then she proceeded to count the ways. She's right of course, and her hypothesis is proved by the appearance of Clarence Renee Filmore Aaron Jackson, Jr. III (L.B. Williams). How he can be a Jr. and III is never questioned, but for Efay, that pales beside the fact that he has arrived at a party with someone else, but proceeds to hit on her. He and his woman have an "understanding," he says, but Efay doesn't buy it. He is smooth though, and quite good-looking, and she is intrigued by his stutter. (Also by the fact that he is a preacher - does he stutter when giving sermons?) But what is he thinking when he puts his hands all over her? And what kind of an excuse is "I just wanted to feel a little bit of ass"? He is certainly direct, and vulgar too, but with an odd and surprising, innocent charm, even when he's explicating the virtues of his dick. Efay, with her frequent asides to the audience, is smart and sassy, but finds herself attracted and appalled in equal measure.
This push and pull is as much plot as there is, and while it's something of an uneasy combination, the actors bring enormous appeal to their parts. Bowens was delightful as she explained her actions, not entirely convincing herself or us, but full of life nonetheless. Williams managed the unlikely combination of crass and earnestness, even if this is a character who could only exist in a play. They were smartly directed to keep the charm on high.
Dad is a play whose lineage includes such father-son dramas as August Wilson's Fences. The son (Thaddeus Daniels) hates being called Junior, but is never referred to by his real name (Leviticus). Dad (Gustave Johnson) is strict, stern, hardheaded and loving, even if he has indirect ways of showing it. Here too a character (the son) talks with the audience, allowing it to experience the action from his point of view. But this is a memory play, and because of the warmth the two actors impart to the characters, chances are slim that there will be any resolution other than a warmhearted one. So on the three-hour drive bringing Junior back to college, hopes, dreams, fears, and desires are shared, argued, and fought over (sometimes literally). But again, because of the skill of the actors and the astuteness of the direction, the sentimentality, which could have been poured on thick, is instead played as if the events were unvarnished truth.
The production for both plays was solid, with the (uncredited) sets in Preacher well-furnished. Whereas the car in Dad was simply represented by two benches with backs, when the vehicle broke down on the highway, the good acting was aided by subtle sound and lighting effects that made the warm theatre seem cold.
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler