Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Of Human Kindness
Also see Richard's review of A Christmas Story
These are (mostly) new short scenes, developed in rehearsals by directors Dennis Corcoran, Madeline Finn, and Michelle Zielinski, and their work rises to the dimensions of great theater again and again. It all begins (and ends) with a homeless young man singing quietly as he goes through his day, pushing a grocery cart full of bags and bottles. But, in between, there's a poetic, outspoken chorus of women representing the free-thinking slave Sojourner Truth at various points in her life in Isabella Bomefree; a heart-wrenching, multi-generational playlet called Letters, written by Derek Patterson (which first premiered on stage on the campus of nearby SIU-Edwardsville) centering on what black parents call "The Talk" with their sons; and Ravensbruck, named after the German concentration camp in World War II, where doomed white women struggle to remember who they are at the last possible moment. These collected vignettes may just be everything that goes through a young homeless man's head during the course of a day. But they occupy the same space, of nobler aspirations we remember from experimental theater growing up.
What does it mean, then, that this "theatre of raw idealism" is back, both relevant and compelling? Is it because the world is now run by mobsters, and the daily news has become a trigger-warning for artists? It feels very fresh, but strangely familiar to a baby boomer: black men, and black women, and later European white women from the past, declaring their right to be free, and their power, and even their forgiveness of their captors. How did we end up back here, all over again?
LaVell Thompson, Jr. plays the homeless man who (we will learn) ended up here on the streets after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a war that was the subject of Black Mirror's previous production, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. And, come to think of it, maybe we already have gone through a 1960s-style upheaval, in some different configurationbut perhaps we've been so anesthetized by a lack of political oversight, and the giddiness of our modern lives, that we barely knew it, till this show came along. This show will wake you up in unexpected ways.
And the directors have instilled perfect confidence in each performerthere are only two actors I recognize as having a lot of experience, from past shows: Don McClendon (the regal "tiger" in that Iraq war play) and Jane Abling, a delightful face that pops up now and then in local theater. Near the beginning, she's seen gasping for breath on stage, before appearing in a range of roles later on. As befits this style of theater, she's in crisis and fighting for her life in her first appearance. Mr. McClendon is the dad in the multi-generational Letters, about black families and their sons. And Sherre Ward is compelling as the mom who's resolved herself against domestic terror.
The 90-minute show's tiny moments of "gasping for breath" each have different titles, representing stages of entrapment and resolve. They're fine punctuation marks between the more traditional scenes. And it all sparkles with ennobled human vision.
Of Human Kindness, through December 15, 2018, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd., St. Louis MO. For more information visit blackmirrortheatre.com.
Cast (in their various one-acts, in alphabetical order):
Directors: Dennis Corcoran, Madeline Finn, Michelle Zielinski