Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Riff Raff

Also see Kevin's review of Iago

Kristoff Skalet and André L. Gainey
Many of us know Laurence Fishburne as a prolific film maven through his many character roles. He scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ike Turner in the Tina Turner bio-pic, What's Love Got to Do With It. But few may know that he won a Tony for his role in August Wilson's Two Trains Running in 1992, and a year or two later, he flexed his stage muscle by writing Riff Raff, a showcase to boost his stage cred, also featuring Titus Welliver and rapper Heavy D. Riff Raff premiered Off-Broadway in 1995 to critical acclaim.

After three years of existence, the African American Performing Arts Community Theatre (AAPACT) is using Riff Raff as their second production (their inaugural being a revival of Athol Fugard's The Island last year) to showcase their talents. It shows off a lot more, thanks in part to the trio of players: André Gainey, Kristoff Skalet, and Ray Lockhart. This also marks Teddy Harrell, Jr.'s (AAPACT's president) directorial debut.

Riff Raff is set in present day Brooklyn where we see two hoods escaping a drug lord after a deal gone sour. They find themselves in a rundown apartment while trying to hide from henchmen who are out to eradicate them. 20/20 (Skalet) leads his partner Torch (Gainey) here after Torch murders a transporter. 20/20 has a plan for them to escape, but he needs a helping hand. He enlists the aid of his former sideman, Tony T (Lockhart). Tony claims he is not in the drug dealing business anymore, but he is willing to help the boys out. The three men seem unsure at first, not knowing whom to trust. Soon, arguments ensue, opinions clash, bonding only for a second, leading up to the ultimate betrayal.

Laurence Fishburne weaves this tale of street hustling involving three men who all have one thing on their minds: themselves. This is a gritty, engaging drama that unfolds into four scenes in which the men have to coexist in order to reach their goal.

Fishburne said he created Riff Raff as an actor's exercise. This AAPACT production is more than that. It's a tour-de-force in which André Gainey, Kristoff Skalet, and Ray Lockhart all bring their A game to the table. As Torch, Gainey evokes facial expressions that make his character seem ready to snap at any time. He shows us a man who feels he is not important, and he is terrified of his existence. Lockhart's portrayal of family man Tony is accurate until the very end when he does a 180-degree change of heart. His peacemaking skills are evident here until he makes a decision that changes the course of the entire play. But the command performance belongs to Kristoff Skalet as put-upon soldier 20/20. Skalet stays committed, giving 20/20 an edge that has him running emotional gamuts from scared to witty, controller to caretaker.

Teddy Harrell knows his actors and it shows. He lets them make choices while creating chemistry within the trio. We learn the deep connections between 20/20 and Tony, but especially 20/20 and Torch. The only disadvantage is the bad acoustics in the hall, but the players use it, bringing Dudley Pinder's scenic design to life. Pinder recreates the essence of Brooklyn in the rundown shack, showing its gritty, grimy side.

Smaller theatre companies here do not have big subscription bases like their higher-tiered regional counterparts, so they have to depend on marketing and word of mouth. Let's hope that AAPACT's production will create a fan base, so we can have more black theatre experiences in addition to those in North Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

Riff Raff will play through March 21 at the Liberty Square Community Center, 6304 NW 14th Avenue in Miami. For more information, please call (305) 751-4043.

Written by Laurence Fishburne
Directed by Teddy Harrell, Jr.

Stage Manager: Keith Wade
Scenic and Lighting Design: Dudley Pinder

Starring André L. Gainey, Kristoff Skalet and Ray Lockhart

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- Kevin Johnson

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