We can see
Written, Directed and Choreographed by Layon Gray
The Black Gents of
Workshop Jewel Box Theatre,
Midtown International Theatre Festival (www.midtownfestival.org for showtimes)
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut
Aiiight. Let’s make one thing clear. WEBEIME would break your heart if it weren’t so busy trying to heal it. This play was an outstanding ensemble effort by The Black Gents of Hollywood, whose founder, Layon Gray, wrote, directed and choreographed this tale of a Death Row inmate seeking understanding before his execution.
The inmate (Donn Swaby) remains silent following his initial cry of pain, alternately writing, reading, or savoring or recoiling from the psychodrama performed by seven black men who reveal his biography and reveal the value of his life. This play was staged starkly (Jerome Benoit) in a black box theatre, with seating on two sides, but the epic tale of abuse and violence in the life of the victim often expanded the emotions of the audience beyond those borders. WEBEIME does not excuse the inmate for his crime, yet the play does inspire compassion.
A mostly sixties soundtrack, brimming with Sam Cook, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, and finally a bravura performance of Belafonte’s classic “Day-O” during the climax of the story of the inmate as a young boy—all these fueled an emotional, but by no means, sentimental revue of the prisoner’s existential and metaphoric prison, from which there was seemingly no escape. But there was, at last, a kind of understanding and peace.
Through a variety of dance movements reminiscent of the choreography sixties singers, the prisoner’s sad trajectory was revealed—actor Thom Scott II handled humorously the embarrassment of first love by evoking the charms of the never-seen Janey, who interacted with the prisoner in stark contrast to his violent, punishing father. As the violated young man, Justin Biko invoked the confused child pleading with his father by offering the right mix of naiveté and disbelief. Jason McGee, Lamman Rucker, Jay Jones, and the author served up intense, primal moments using masque and other theatrical staging to invoke the horror and the pity. Near the conclusion, Eddie Lewis captivated the audience with a whisper.
Jazz funeral regalia is an inspired costume choice (Steve Moreau); lighting transformed the
environments effectively (operator Farelle Walker).
The play moves next to the National Black Theatre Festival in
Copyright 2007 Deborah S. Greenhut
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