Affairs of the heart


The Engagement (a snatch of life in three acts)


Written and Directed by Carolyn M. Brown and Denise E. Womack

All In Black and White Productions (

Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher Street

Non Equity Showcase (closed July 22, 2007)

Review by Judd Hollander


More than love, marriage represents change. From not being able to be with your friends as much as you or they might like, to putting your significant other first above family, companions, shopping buddies, etc. Such is the situation presented in the very enjoyable Engagement, which recently finished a run at Wings Theatre. Nicely written and directed by Carolyn M. Brown and Denise E. Womack, albeit with some significant problems along the way, the piece is both interesting and involving with one not knowing how things will turn out till the final moments.


In present day Cleveland, Deja (Lashambi Britton) and Faith (Shanell Sapp), who have been in a relationship for eight months, have decided to get married. Or more properly, have a commitment ceremony to publicly declare their love for each other. However, both bring emotional baggage to the impending union. Deja's family basically disowned her due to the fact she's gay, while Faith still has issues regarding ex-girlfriend Stacy (Lorraine Mattox) - the latter issue hitting home full force when Stacy arrives for the ceremony after mysteriously receiving an invitation. There's also Nicole, (Celine Justice), Faith's long time straight friend who has her own agenda regarding the union. Additionally, many of Faith's friends remember the emotional fallout over her previous relationship and feel she's rushing into a new one way too soon.


This story could be presented as either drama or comedy, and Brown and Womack combine both elements nicely so the play neither becomes too pretentious nor seems too much like a parody. Unfortunately, neither writer/director has learned the "less is more" axiom; the result being the script contains too many characters, as well as scenes and situations of a similar nature, which severely blunts the overall effectiveness of the piece.


As an example, Faith, the main character of the piece (Deja being off-stage for large portions of the play), is given three separate confidantes to tell her problems to: straight friend Nicole, her old college friend Chavon (Kianne Muschett) and her sister Sharon (Candice A. Hassell). At a pre-ceremony reception, Faith explains first to Chavon and then Sharon about Stacy's sudden appearance in her apartment the night before (where they kissed). Chavon's and Sharon's reaction and advice to Faith are practically the same; negating the need for us to see it a second time.


This double-dipping problem also occurs late in the play where Faith has two separate confrontations with people trying to stop the ceremony. Again, other than a small plot detail and a name change, the effects are the same. Had the two scenes been combined, either comically or dramatically, it would have worked much better. But as it is, one is left with a feeling of "didn't we just see this?"


Another problem is that Britton is simply not up to the role of Deja. With a performance which can best be described as wooden, all of her dialogue comes out in a monotone; whether declaring her love for Faith, dealing with her disapproving mother, or recalling a violent incident in her past. Because of this, the character, while richly drawn, is simply not that interesting. (Britton does have one moment towards the end of Act II where she lashes out with righteous rage, but soon after, she slips back into the same middle-of-the-road blandness.)


Britton's performance is made worse by the fact that almost 90% of her scenes are with Sapp, who delivers a knockout performance throughout. From the moment she sets foot on the stage, Sapp bring Faith to life as a woman struggling with doubts while trying to put the past behind her, and attempting to balance the needs of her friends with what's in her heart. The rest of the cast is also quite good, including Justice, who as Nichole loves Faith to the point of jealousy; and Mattox who is able to make Stacy, a character which could easily be a throwaway joke, into a three-dimensional being. Hassell and Muschett are also very good in their respective roles, as is Stephanie Gilchrist, offering some comic relief as a southern wedding planner.


Every character and scene, in fact, is fully drawn and completely fleshed out -- too much so in some cases. The script introduces too many peripheral players, giving them strong back stories and then just has them come in and out for brief scenes. This is a piece which would have probably worked much better were it played on a more intimate scale.


There's only one poorly written scene in the entire play, and thus it sticks out like a sore thumb. It takes place scene at the afore-mentioned reception where the various characters get into a huge argument over the morality and legality of gay marriage. A provocative and emotionally powerful issue to be sure, but dramatically, it has no reason to be in the story, at least in the way Brown and Womack have set it up. None of the characters involved has previously shown anything but support on this matter. Several anti-gay incidents do take place in the play, but other than Deja, did not include anyone in this scene. There are also too many places where the dialogue become a diatribe and one gets the feeling of being pounded over the head with this material--which is dropped just as quickly as it began. The sequence also does nothing to advance the plot (the only time this happens) and with the exception of Deja, Faith and Nicole, none of the characters involved ever appear again.


As directors, Brown and Womack do okay with what they have to work with, and the sets and costumes (both uncredited in the program) nicely fit the story. Unfortunately, the lighting by Vanessa Wendt was quite distracting, with some scenes ending on a fade out and others stopping or starting when somebody clicked on a light switch, with all too often the show waiting until that person could walk around where the audience was seated to turn said switch off and on.


Lighting problems asde, The Engagement is a lovingly written and heart-tugging piece. With the aid of judicious editor (or at least a very good dramturg), Brown and Womack could have something really special on their hands.


Also in the cast were Jamil A. C. Mangan, Tyron Saulsbury and Tim Romero.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Sets: 0

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2007 Judd Hollander


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