Playwright and performer Dael Orlandersmith has a way with language and a talent for mimicry, but Stoop Stories, her one-woman performance receiving its premiere production at Washington's Studio Theatre, is still a work in progress. Rather than a fully shaped solo play, the show in its current form comes across as an aimless series of vignettes strung on a tenuous common thread: people conversing on the stoops in front of old New York City apartment houses.
Orlandersmith embodies several characters in her 70-minute solo performance: men and women; African-American, white and Latino; native-born and immigrant. What they have in common is the vitality of the multi-ethnic city, pulsating with music from jazz to hip-hop. What many of them lack, however, is a compelling reason to share their stories.
Some of the characters stand out, specifically Orlandersmith's conjuring of an elderly Polish Jew, a Holocaust survivor who finds a new life in postwar Harlem, recounting his brief spiritual connection with a fading jazz legend. As the performer moves farther afieldrecounting a troubled relationship between light- and dark-skinned Latinos, for example, or presenting a girl already exhausted by life at age 13her voice and manner become more soothing than exciting, and may cause the audience to lose focus.
In other words, many of the components for a fulfilling production are already present, but Stoop Stories will need an additional spark, or at least an overarching connection among the parts, before it can become a satisfying whole.