Jay Padilla & Ricky Acklin in You, Me, Me, You.
Photo by Patrick J. Mitchell
6’10: A Showcase of African American Theater
Written & directed by various
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The 2nd annual iteration of Smoked Apple Theater Group’s evening of short plays arrives amid controversy about the fact that some of the playwrights were not African American. For a program labeled A Showcase of African American Theatre, the complaint may have some validity, but the pigmentation of the writer’s skin was not a factor in the impact of the production on the audience, so we will not concern ourselves too much with that issue in this review.
The mix of earnest newcomers with more experienced and trained players in the casting made for an undeniable unevenness in the quality of performance, and contributed to an overall lack of polish that was both a blessing and a curse.
The evening opened strong with Smoked Apple Artistic Director Nipsey Green’s Nigga Moments: Domestic Disturbances, an insightful glimpse into self-perception within contemporary Black American culture. Green’s performance was low-key but authoritative, and he and Katrice Gill exploited an easy chemistry to good comedic effect.
Len Cuthbert’s You, Me, Me, You was a heady examination of a man and a woman at a class reunion discovering just how deep and extreme some life changes can prove to be. Jay Padilla was a sharp and sassy pro, and Ricky Acklin was a softer but still funny presence in a piece whose premise stretches credulity in service to a worthwhile commentary.
Rock Idol again featured Mr. Acklin, this time in a flashier role as a music star indulging a idolatrous fan, played by Morgan Younge, but Krista Knight’s script failed to realize its potential, and the performances also seemed less than ready for an audience.
That lack of preparedness dogged the evening as a whole, with only a few moments of more finely crafted work shining through, although the looser quality may have benefited some of the less experienced cast members. A good example was Marcus Orton in, A Dog Dreams. Both he and Mr. Acklin, in his 3rd role of the night, managed to bring pathos to Jeffrey Fischer-Smith’s poignant story of grief and sorrow reconciled in small measure by a ghost whose visit is triggered by the dreams of a beloved pet: unusual but affecting.
The Mama and the Papa, by Rex McGregor, entertains another slightly provocative idea: God and Mother Nature at odds about the counter-culture of 1967. Kronski Jones is an appropriately commanding and patriarchal presence as “Papa”, and Marquita Howerton does well as “Mama”, although some dropped lines and missed cues broke the momentum. It also followed a protracted set change that was largely mitigated by a sharp and sexy dance by Gwendolyn Evans and Dominic Collins
Pumps, by Brett Hursey, wraps up the evening with a vignette about a woman trying to go “cold turkey” from wearing power pumps. Gwendolyn Evans starts off hitting the right keys as the woman, but she winds up wildly overplaying the piece, a miscalculation placed in higher relief by Everett Ezell’s nicely understated work as her patient husband.
The racial makeup of the authors notwithstanding, each of the plays was staged within a framework of Black cultural sensibility. A fetish for shoes is not specifically African American, but the characterization of the married couple seems specific to Black social identifiers beyond the obvious fact that the actors themselves were African American.
Ultimately Smoked Apple’s choices seem to be about finding original stories to tell. Whatever the shaggy-dog, just-shy-of-professional quality of the production, there is innovation to be found in the ideas within the writing chosen and ambition in the heart of company director Nipsey Green, who announced at evening’s end a 2016 line-up of productions that will include August Wilson’s King Hedley II, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun, an original full-length play by Mr. Green, and, of course, more 6’10.
6’10: A Showcase of African American Theater
December 19 @ 7:30pm
December 20 @ 3:30pm & 6:30pm
Smoked Apple Theater Group
At Vault 1031
1031 South Sixth Street
Louisville, KY 40203
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.