Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
With one leg perched on a stool, Henry's hand flies back and forth. Thigh to chest and then back again, each slap beats out a careful rhythm. "Hambone, hambone, have you heard?" Henry's voice rings out with each slap as he reenacts an age-old tradition - the hambone. However, the hambone is more than just a series of singing and clapping in Javon Johnson's play of the same name. It is a symbol of culture, unity and most importantly, family.
Now playing at The Studio Theatre, Hambone is set in Anderson, South Carolina, circa 1988. It is a small town where everyone knows each other and the line between black and white is unbroken. Hambone focuses on Bishop, the owner of a small sandwich shop. As he and his brother Henry trade quips, share stories and occasionally hambone, Bishop is faced with the burgeoning manhood of Tyrone, the boy he has raised as his own. He must also deal with the troubling friendship Tyrone has with the James Brown obsessed Bobbilee. Even more complications occur when an unknown white man enters their world.
A protégé of August Wilson, Javon Johnson has provided a piece that explores a variety of opinions about the relationship between black and white culture. Bishop is a true paradox. He conveys tolerance of the white world but it is soon evident that there are some things that even he cannot accept. Ever the conspiracy theorist, Henry is convinced that the white world is out to harvest the organs of black men. Tyrone expresses his need to assimilate into the white business world, and Bobbilee is defiant, feeling he must survive through committing misdeeds.
Hambone manages to be entertaining while tackling some intense issues. Johnson is a wonderful writer of dialogue. He also provides a strong plot. However, as fine as the plot is, it tends to get a bit predictable. But the overall product is so good that the predictability of the piece can be forgiven.
This show is also blessed with an excellent cast. Doug Brown (pictured at right) as Bishop, delivers a wonderful performance as the bible-carrying café owner. He plays off the rest of the cast very well. His chemistry is especially good with the equally talented David Toney (Henry). These two skilled actors provide some of the best moments of the play. Jamahl Marsh successfully shows off his range as the struggling Tyrone and Luis A. Laporte, Jr. is heartbreaking as the self-destructive Bobbilee.
It is obvious that the direction of Regge Life has helped this production speak to the audience. Mr. Life uses his actors and material in a way that makes the best use of The Studio's intimate space. Debra Booth's set design further enhances the experience. Additionally, Reggie Ray captures the feel of the eighties by providing costumes that are appropriate to the time period.
"Hambone with me", Henry commands his brother. As they hambone, four hands create one tune. It may be comical. At times it may be difficult. No matter what, the tune Hambone provides is always interesting.
The Studio Theatre