Ruby Dee's star is shining brightly over the Women's Project Theatre. Though the new play, Saint Lucy's Eyes, which opened last night, requires an actress of Dee's caliber and stature to fulfill the challenging lead role, it also requires someone whose presence is so strong, that the play's other flaws are more difficult to notice. In both cases, Dee succeeds beautifully.
Dee treats every word like the gospel truth, and makes you believe in the truth and the importance of every situation. Playing a character known only as Grandma, she commands the stage with warmth and humor, and never lets down her other actors - or the audience - for a moment. Though there is never a question she is the main focus of the play, she always knows exactly when to allow someone else to share the limelight.
Bridgette A. Wimberly's play deals with Grandma, who, for the bargain price of $50, will get young women "out of trouble," both before - and after - the practice of abortion was legalized. While often interesting, the play usually seems as if it is trying to pack in too many situations for its characters to deal with.
A young woman (Toks Olagundoye) comes to Grandma for an abortion. After doing it and giving her some helpful advice for the future, Grandma has a fight with her husband, Bay, (Willis Burks II) about money, on the same day that Martin Luther King, Jr. is killed. Twelve years later, in the motel room in which King died, another woman (Sally A. Stewart) asks for Grandma's help before Grandma goes out to vote for the first time.
If the play is cluttered with messages, it is not otherwise poorly constructed. Though dealing with rather serious subject matter, the play has a fair amount of humor. While the play works hard - perhaps slightly too hard - at bringing characters and events full circle, the dialogue is not poorly written; in fact, the characters' lines are almost always believable, be they proper English or more dialect in nature. (Only one or two, from Bay, sound as if they were composed.)
Of the other actors, Olagundoye stands out. With a slightly larger role, she is able to bring a sense of poignancy and dignity to her character, along with a fair amount of growth. Unfortunately, the characters played by Burks and Stewart allow less of this. Burks does his best, but can't overcome the cliches that riddle his scene. Stewart does much better in her small but pivotal role.
Billie Allen's direction fits the script well and always keeps the action moving. Though Jane Reisman's lights, especially a clever rain effect that recurs throughout the play, are fine, Beowulf Borritt's adaptable set design has more than a few surprises of its own, and always sets the scene effectively.
It is, however, Dee who makes this play. Her acting appears effortless, and she seems to completely understand and relate perfectly to everyone else onstage. Saint Lucy's Eyes may try too hard to get its messages across, but it gives Dee every opportunity to demonstrate the range of her ability, which makes the production about as successful as one could hope.
Picture: Toks Olagundoye and Ruby Dee. Photo by Martha Holmes.
Women's Project and Productions