Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

...Another Man's Poison

Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

Penelope Lowder, James Edward Shippy, Steve Greenstein, and Leland Gantt
Photo by Joan Marcus.

In 1970, 5 years before Weezy and George Jefferson had moved on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky, Frankie Masters (Leland Gantt) and his family were already living in theirs. In George O. Brome's multi-layered Another Man's Poison, Masters has almost everything that he needs to make it to the top: his own TV production company, a promising pilot for a skit comedy show, and a "hands-on" agent named Mel (Steve Greenstein) supplying more attention and opportunities than most. If only his lonely wife Pauline (Penelope Lowder) and gay son Alan (James Edward Shippy) were on board with his lofty plans.

It's not that they don't enjoy the luxuries. Kevin Lee Allen's spacious, New York apartment set is so rich with color that it resembles an art gallery. The new accommodations are definitely an upgrade from the days when the trio lived in the projects. And based on the frequent changes in Ali Turns' snazzy costumes, mom and son seem to be thrilled with the good life.

But what is great for one is not necessarily enough for others. While Masters earns the "meat", Pauline and Alan experience the "poison" in their relationships with him. Rather than nurture his family, he grooms himself into Wilhelmena, the female character modeled after his wife that expresses sentiments that he cannot as a man. Masters is soon reminded that not all moments in real life come with a laugh track, even if Another Man's Poison has plenty of instances where chuckles don't need to be manufactured.

Leland Gantt and Dennis Hearn.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

With fine actors, under Passion Hansome's sharp direction, that are as skilled at comedy as they are at drama, Another Man's Poison switches easily from being funny to being serious. Using the "play within a play" scheme, the action goes from skits that are pulled off without a hitch (with the fantastic contributions of Dennis Hearn and Toni L. Stanton) to intimate scenes that are, well, pulled off without a hitch.

The themes of the piece vacillate as frequently as the mood to the play's detriment. While the show is comprehensive, Brome tries to pack in too many weighty subjects. As a result, several of them are treated too casually. Brome picked a fascinating decade to plant his story. 1970 was a time when many things were brewing: protests against the Vietnam War, new opportunities for black actors in entertainment, and the "politicizing of sexual identity." Another Man's Poison has all of these, plus the dynamics of a relationship between a black man and a black woman, how the pursuit of success can damage a family, undercover homosexuality, persistent racial tensions, loneliness, depression and how comedy is used as a coping mechanism against pain. However, most of these topics are only broached, making the play scattered. There is enough material here for at least one more play.

Another Man's Poison may be stretched too thin, but it still makes a deep impact. With some reconfiguring, it will be an even stronger theatrical experience than it already is.

...Another Man's Poison
Through August 23
Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street, 4th floor
Running Time: 2 hours with two intermissions
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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