In a program note, playwright/director Melissa Maxwell writes that her play's "overall theme is universal" even as "most of the situations are specific to black folk." To which the only reply is "yes, absolutely" and "absolutely not!" But while six of the eight scenes of Unrequited Love have the soul of a sitcom, its heart is in the right place. It is in the last two scenes that Maxwell finds her balance, and where the real strength of her play lies.
Telephone Tag sets up the kind of communication dissonance that runs through Love -- when Brenda (Nadhege Alexandré) calls Kevin (George Spencer), a man she met at a party, another woman answers. The audience knows the woman (Messeret Stroman) is his sister, but Brenda doesn't. The scenes of this mini-drama play out in between the rest of the playlets, the conclusion of which -- well, more on it later.
The second scene, Nothing Personal, depends on a joke that is obvious almost immediately, which also seems recycled from a show on the WB network. A woman (Tiffany Adams) interviews several men to fill a position. Two don't measure up (Spencer, Devin Haqq), but the third (Erik LaRay Harvey) not only meets all qualifications, but has his own demands.
Misery Loves Company had Haqq and Harvey as construction workers with very different approaches to women -- one catcalls after each one who passes, the other loves his girlfriend. Why be exclusive to a woman who's got to be using you, the dog asks, and the other one lets his confidence slowly be sapped.
3 Blind Mice featured strong performances by Stroman, Adams and Alexandré as women with different approaches to men, but each one strikes out. To make matters worse, all three are dissed in favor of white women, represented by two-dimensional cutouts, humorously designed by Ken Goldstein and Lynette Scoles. The girls argue about position and success, but there's no question that the rejection stings. Hard.
It's a Jungle also depends on one readily apparent joke, with Spencer as a soldier under fire giving rules for survival. "Never let your guard down," "the enemy isn't who you think it is" -- of course he's talking about women. Spencer and strikingly good sound effects kept it painless.
Ships in the Night limns the frustrations of a couple (Haqq and Adams) whose different work schedules (he's a 9-to-5er, she's a nurse on the night shift) cause friction as they make promises, quarrel, and use the internet to flirt, and possibly connect, with strangers.
But with All God's Chil'un' Maxwell has a heartbreaking winner. Stroman is a young girl on her cell phone excited about a date and minding a baby. Through her conversation the details of her life are revealed, as well as her hopes and dreams. But this character drama is not punch-line-driven, and Stroman played it perfectly. The reasons for getting a toothcap, for example, were never this chilling, but the character herself is oblivious. Finally, Unrequited Love has substance and depth, expertly delivered.
What follows, Jeopardized, is a sharp satire about attitudes and lifestyles. Sure it's obvious, but it was made even sharper by the performances of Spencer, Haqq, and especially Adams as contestants, and Harvey as the smarmy emcee.
And all along the story of Kevin and Brenda has moved along with typical fits and starts, culminating in their meeting. Neither is who the other was expecting, and it seems like a complete bust until it turns out Brenda likes basketball. At least now they have something to argue about. This echo of Bacharach and David's Promises, Promises is probably coincidental, but it also shows that except for the language, in 35 years not all that much about the war between men and women has changed. Still, it's a hopeful note on which to end the evening.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler