Harlem Rep's Ain't Misbehavin'shows promise for the future
The Harlem Repertory Theatre is a young, evolving company making a name for itself on the uptown campus of CCNY. Their lively production of Ain't Misbehavin' is just about over (the run ends September 13th), but they're gearing up to immediately start performing As You Like It. That kind of unexpected programming automatically suggests a broad and encompassing vision.
Ain't Misbehavin' is the first of the company's shows we've seen and we're encouraged to say that with time and experience they could put on some first class productions. This version of the Fats Waller show features several particularly promising performers as well as impressive staging, the latter made necessary by the decision to employ an ensemble of ten actors to supplement the cast of seven featured performers. Can't say they aren't giving a lot of folks work!
Directed and choreographed with Úlan by Keith Lee Grant, the show is especially worth the trek to discover Alexandra Bernard, who has a big, bright, brassy voice. Also getting our attention was Nathaly Lopez who also sings well and has lots of personality. Among the dancers, there is a pert and perfectly poised young woman who seems to have a step on everyone else, Monica Delgado. Also very much worth mentioning is the costume design by Natalia Peguero, who doubles as one of the performers. For a small company, presumably with limited funds, the costuming is a constant amazement; the cast changes into a seemingly endless variety of fun, glitzy gowns and suits.
Ain't Misbehavin' at Aaron Davis Hall, 150 Convent Avenue (West 135th Street) through September 14. For ticket and performance information, visit www.harlemrepertorytheatre.org.
One Nation Under ... whelming
Well meaning, and trying oh so hard to be topical, One Nation Under is a lumbering play written by Andrea Lepcio with uninspired direction by Tye Blue that runs through September 13th.
The less-than-convincing plot involves a female New York Republican judge who is being vetted for a possible Supreme Court appointment. She has a troubled son who signs up with Halliburton to go to Iraq. Caught between protecting her son and her judicial ambition, the story begins to spin, getting more and more outlandish as it tries to score points rather than tell a convincing tale. The cast is uneven, which doesn't help matters much. But even a sterling cast would have trouble with some of the tin-eared dialogue in the play. The actors have to be there. You don't.
One Nation Under at Theatre 54 @ Shetler through September 13. For tickets, call 212-352-3101.
Noon Day Sun shines a bright light
With Barack Obama running for President of the United States, it is politically and socially resonant to witness a play set in 1957 that deals directly with American racism in a story about a young Black woman passing for White. The changes in our country that have taken place in the last half century come very much to mind in the evocative (and now closed) Cassandra Medley play.
The tight cast of six is led by the luminous Gin Hammond who stars as Zena, a light-skinned Black woman who eventually marries an up-and-coming Irish car salesman. She has changed her name, invented her past, and has learned how to act like a Southern belle. But she has the bad luck to run in to her first husband, who she never divorced, a Black handyman (Ron Cephas Jones) who has no wish to blow her cover. Nonetheless, their past is going to catch up with both of them in this richly detailed morality tale.
Elegantly directed by Victor Lirio, the play allows its characters, with one exception, to be real people dealing with their uniquely personal problems. It's no fault of the actor, who shall remain unnamed, but there is one character written as a wicked businessman that is overdone. Except for that, all of the characters are richly detailed and three-dimensional. Giving an especially vivid performance is Michael McGlone who plays Gin Hammond's striving and honest white husband. The fireworks that go off when he discovers that he's married to a Black woman are both explosive and heartbreaking; McGlone finds the humanity in his character and it is one of this season's early great performances.
Two Great Queens in Elizabeth Rex
Elizabeth Rex is a fanciful and fascinating play by Timothy Findley in which Queen Elizabeth spends the night with William Shakespeare and his troupe of actors while she awaits the execution for treasonthat she orderedof her great love, Robert, The Earl of Essex. The play becomes a clash between the Queen, who has denied her womanhood in order to rule England, and the troupe's premier actor who has made his career playing women's roles. Which is the greater female?
Raising the stakes is the fact that the actor (Michael DiGioia) is dying of a sexually transmitted disease. In that sense, both the Queen and the actor are at death's door and this is, perhaps, the last chance for each to find what they are missing (and the other possesses). A wonderful supporting cast creates a terrific texture upon which the main drama unfolds, a drama in which the outlandish actor, having nothing to lose, is constantly taunting the otherwise imperious Queen.
Directed with flair by Joanne Zipay, the show ultimately features two wonderful actors battling it out on stage like grand divas. Both Michael DiGioia and Stephanie Barton-Farcas, the latter playing the Queen to the hilt, give strong and highly memorable performances in this thought-provoking play that unfortunately ends its run this Saturday.
Elizabeth Rex at Center Stage. For ticket information, call 212-352-3101.
-- Barbara and Scott Siegel