Ann-Claude Rakotoniaina, Riker Hill, Abby Braune, LaRon Hobson, Vanessa Card, Meltonious Shorter, & Spencer Korcz in Boomerang. Photo courtesy of Cisco Montgomery.
3 From Cisco
Witten and directed by Larry Muhammad
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Larry Muhammad is an important voice in Louisville theatre, even if he does fly somewhat under the radar. Under the nom de plume Cisco Montgomery, he writes plays that originate from a personal place. Under the banner of Kentucky Black Repertory Theatre, he writes and produces plays that illuminate Black history in the region, such as Jockey Jim, about legendary African American jockey Jimmy Winkfield, and BUSTER!, a musical based on the life of the Rev. Louis Coleman.
Boomerang is inspired by real-life experiences from Mr. Muhammad’s life. Eight young people come together for one character’s birthday and, it being 1969; there are indulgences in smoking weed and a certain degree of sexual freedom. There is also a good deal of political posturing, most of it sincere but some of it less so. Rage is given voice, but so is compassion and tolerance, and the characters are serious enough, even if they also feel incredibly naïve in their idealism.
Of course, that perspective comes from the knowledge the audience has of how that period finished out. For all of the change that occurred as the result of protests then, our collective reaction to current events force us to question if American society will ever embrace such radical social activism again. Boomerang plays as a commentary on the fluidity of political perspective, but even more importantly the playwright seems to be using this concentrated dose of ‘60’s hyperbole to provoke thoughts about how we confront, or do not confront, the same issues today.
Which is important, because the play suffers from cliché and stereotyping among the characters: aliented Vietnam vet Vernon (Riker Hill), feminst lawyer Crystal (Abby Braune), medical student activist Arthur (LaRon Hobson), activist and former nun Joana (Vanessa Card), Black Panther Ed T (Meltonious Shorter), teacher activist Nancy (Ann-Claude Rakotoniaina), and community organizer Mario (Spencer Korcz). I have no problem believing such heady groupings were commonplace in 1969, but dramatically it seems just a little contrived. The dialogue seems too dependent on cataloging the rhetoric of the time rather than building a story or significant relationships. The ensemble, which also includes Chavon Lewis, are all laid back enough to register the supposed ease with which these people take off their clothes (be advised, there is onstage nudity), but also can summon the energy for a self-righteous diatribe about racism and social injustice. Still they are more a set of mouthpieces than fully developed characters.
And while it’s entirely possible that is part of the point, I would love to see Mr. Muhammad expand the short one-act structure to flesh out the characters. I believe it would allow the powerful final action to have even more impact. I won’t reveal it here, but it suddenly brought the writer’s intention into sharp focus and forced me to leave the theatre thinking.
Two other shorter pieces fill out the evening with mixed results. A solid performance from Kaelyn Drane helped make Radio Play gripping; an economical examination of the unexpected ways humans may find themselves connected in crisis. It is a slender thread indeed.
Kin Under The Skin, in which a white woman and a black woman, who are distant cousins, face off on a Court TV, Judge Judy-style show, over the question of reparations, is a fascinating idea, but it struggles to overcome some indifferent playing among the cast. Chavon Lewis was a dynamic presence as Nyeemah, but Vanessa Card’s work was problematic. Although she has undeniable presence, her rapid delivery mangled some of the dialogue, and her agitated manner of moving her head when speaking didn’t help matters.
Which makes me wonder if Mr. Muhammad wouldn’t benefit from collaborating with another director with these plays, in order to have a more objective perspective on the material and more fully realize its potential. Yet this gentleman playwright has much to say and is working on his own to get his work in front of the public, and that is no small thing.
3 From Cisco
November 19, 20, 21, 22, 2015
Cisco Montgomery at
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.