Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea
Christian Kitchens plays the title character with authenticity, charm and ease. But the modern American characters inside Dontrell Jones III's family are a little short on, well, character, in this slice-of-life-meets-mystical-rediscovery-of-one's-heritage story. The dialogue about who they are and what they want seems only about half the usual line count, which gives Dontrell the feeling of children's theater–except for the mild sexual and adult language content, which raises the age of the likely target audience to teenagers and their parents, I suppose. It becomes primarily a dancing show, with unforgettable, hallucinogenic spectacle on its side. Black Rep founder Ron Himes directs, shaping his actors' psychological surety and giving them a good, clipped sense of pace in their vignettes.
The costumes by Daryl Harris are outstanding: emblematic, and even eye-popping, in scenes in which the actor/dancers swirl around the stage as elegant African mystics and shamans, or as dazzling tropical fish at an aquarium, with giant background projections around them to match. Heather Beal is the choreographer, and the movement of all of the cast members is fluid, reassured, and inspiring.
Olajuwon Davis is great as an embittered American father (Dontrell Jr.) and as a magnificent ghostly progenitor in royal robes. And I'm a sucker for such polished, wild acting polarities, in dual-role performances. He is matched in strength by the ultra-professional Lakesha Glover, as Dontrell III's mother, who makes character statements even out of the show's balletic set changes. However, both parental characters could benefit from one or two more worried monologues, perhaps about why the dad is so territorial in defending his tiny little spot in life, even from his own family. Men are not always made small by what life does to them. But they often become small by failing to engage with what they've got. Here, as Dontrell Jr., Mr. Davis is reduced to almost a feral level, by a TV set and a comfy chair.
But that comfy chair (we eventually realize) also squawks like distant seagulls, giving us another layer of sensory excellence, calling on his son to make a reverse crossing on the Atlantic Ocean. Claire McClannan is very good as the young woman Dontrell III goes out to sea with. As Erika, she's the wild card in the plot, impetuously carrying the burden of reuniting a young man with the spirit of his African roots.
Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea runs through July 23, 2022, at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University, St. Louis MO. Parking is somewhat limited adjacent to the theater, but additional visitor parking is available underground, in front of Brookings Hall, and free after hours and on Sundays. For tickets and information, please visit www.theblackrep.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association
** Denotes Member, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers