Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Alpha Beta and Gamma on Delta

Over the past several months, I’ve been queried about my lack of critical response to several shows, including Sycamore Rouge’s "Translations," Richmond Shakespeare’s “Amadeus,” Barksdale’s “Driving Miss Daisy” and, most recently, “Chapter Two” which is currently at Chamberlayne Actors Theater. These queries have been delivered with attitudes ranging from simply inquisitive to sincerely disappointed to moderately enraged. All I can really do is apologize, though my apology comes with a hint of my own annoyance.

As I suggested when I first set up this blog – and have reiterated fairly regularly since – there is no freakin way I can see all of the shows that open in town, even if I didn’t have a real job, four kids, classes in graduate school, yadda yadda yadda… Style pays me to see some shows, others I see because I think I should or would enjoy them, and the rest just have to fall by the wayside. Its sad but true. Luckily, between the T-D, Style’s other critic, and WCVE, most every professional show in town gets some critical response, so it could be worse.

With that in mind, my review of AART’s “From the Mississippi Delta” is up on the Style website now (you can also check out my summer theater preview in this issue). As I hope I communicated in my review, I liked this production and was particularly impressed with Ms. Turnage’s performance, not just of Aint Baby but of some of the more incidental characters she portrayed. She has a natural authority on stage that is fun to watch and she made some of the characters who could have easily slipped into charicature seem real.

I had some troubles with Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s script, though. For one thing, as beautiful as the language was and as engaging as some of the stories were, there is something “book report”-like in a show that just tells a bunch of vignettes from a family’s history. I read somewhere that the theme was about the perseverance of African American women. Not to be flip or anything, but that is a story that has been told already, just like “love found / love lost / love found again” has been done a couple of thousand times. Sure, there were many thoroughly original moments in this script, but I didn’t pick up anything much original in the big picture themes being communicated.

The last scenes where Phelia talks about her college experience including listing some of her influences is the best example of how the script went awry. Are we supposed to know these people? Are we supposed to have any idea of the specific impact they had on Phelia? I didn’t and I didn’t, which ended the show on a bit of a frustrating note for me.

Having said that, there is not much I can find fault with in this production. The set and props were good and the lighting very nice. I was particularly impressed with the sound design, which is a production element that seems to vex some companies these days (and apparently, the Tonys as well). I’d maybe suggest that Mr. Cobb could’ve tightened up some of his scene transitions but, overall, it was some darn good work.

My biggest hope is that more people came out to see the rest of the run than was indicated by opening night. The T-D’s Ms. Lewis, her guest and I made up 3 of the 5 people in the audience. Everyone associated with the production really deserves better than that.

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