Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Rust is an Absorbing Story of Contemplation of African-American Achievements and History
Rust is a strong play about the humiliation of African-American marketable stereotypes. It involves popular NFL football star Randall Mifflin (Mikaal Sulaiman), who has the best of all possible worlds: a million dollar home; a beautiful wife Jeannie (April Matthis), who is a little near sighted; and everything anyone could possibility want on his high yearly salary. Randall has been injured (there is a clever scene with Randall and another football player with NFL headgear butting heads, showing the protagonist's injury.) He has now recovered, but he still does not want to go back onto the field to play ball before his adoring fans.
Randall has become a collector of black racist commercial art which he purchases online. He receives disturbing calls from a character who looks like Aunt Jemima (she sits on a platform at the rear of the small stage) and tells him to be respected for what he is and not a slave to money people as a commercial commodity.
Rust's first act is a series of disconnected scenes between reality and fantasy. In the first scene we see the actress dressed as Aunt Jemima, sitting in a rocking chair on a platform on the rear of the stage, while in front of the stage an elderly African-American character is being wheeled in on a gurney lamenting, "Save me, Joe Louis." This character is Mr. Peale (L. Peter Callender), who looks like the domestic servant pictured on boxes of Uncle Ben's Rice. Omas and Snipe (Donald Lett and Eric Fraisher Hayes) are dressed in ballet tutus representing Gold Dust soap powder; they come onto the stage talking in a gibberish form of speech (the Gold Dust Twins were used on the product label of the Fairbanks Soap Company in the early 20th century). Also appearing is Mary-Mary-Anne (Nicole C. Julien) who resembles the character of Farina in the Our Gang comedies from 1922 through 1931. She pops out of a wall in the deserted house of two uptight upper-middle-class modern African-Americans, Andrew (Lance Gardner) and Olivia (April Matthis), who are more white than black. These scenes swing back and forth at rapid speed during the first act 75 minutes. It takes a little time to get use to all of the action that is taking place on the stage.
The second act is the meat of the drama. Gin George (L. Peter Callender), an old and crotchety African-American merchant who deals in black, artifacts from early movie posters of Herb Gardner who was the first black movie actor to play a heroic cowboy and Josephine Baker to monstrous black commercial logos. He gives a scorching speech on the increasing impact of the racist objects he sells. There is a brilliant confrontation between Randall and his mother (Cathleen Riddley) in the second act. She tries to inform him that being a Black football player for white owners is like being a slave; they are exploiting him as a commercial commodity for their own money making ventures. There are some wonderful satirical scenes on two querulous TV sportscasters (Lance Gardner and Eric Fraisher Hayes) who are zealot reporters. Eric Fraisher Hayes is especially good when he reports that all African-American football players should be grateful since it provides them with big expensive cars, boats, beautiful women and large houses.
Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges has assembled a marvelous cast of actors who play various parts in this two hour travesty. April Matthis as the wife Jeannie and Olivia is first rate in the dual roles. Cathleen Riddley gives a splendid performance as Aunt Jemima and Randall's mother. L. Peter Callender is terrific as Gin George. Mikaal Sulaiman gives an excellent performance as the confused football player, Randall. Donald Lett as Randall's close friend and NFL football player Chunk-Chunk Adams, is very good. He also plays a hilarious Omas, a Gold Dust Twin. Nicole C. Julien with her Topsy voice gives a wonderful thumbs up performance and then turns around to give a lovely portrayal of LaDonna Adams, the best friend and wife of Chunk-Chunk Adams. Lance Gardner is perfect as the uptight middle-class African-American.
Rust should be on a bigger stage since so much action and quick changes are really too much for the small Magic Theatre stage. The solid writing is provocative and ambitious and should be a great hit for cutting edge theatres.
Rust will play in repertory with Pleasure + Pain through April 1. The third and final world series play in this Hot House Series, BOT, opens on March 10th and will be part of the repertory. The Magic Theatre is located in Building D, Ft. Mason Center, Marina Blvd at Laguna, San Francisco. For tickets to all of the series please call 415-441-8822 or online at www.magictheatre.org Josh Kornbluth's Citizen John returns to the Magic on May 12 and runs through June 10th.