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Anthony Franklin, Michael Roberts (front), Eric Sharp, & Angela Williams. Photo: Liminal Playhouse.
By Jim Grimsley
Directed by Tony Prince
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Beneath a lonely streetlight, a saxophone player plays longing melodies and chords, from nowhere and without explanation a silent stranger enters the scene. This stranger plays witness and victim to complex relationships within a disheveled New Orleans apartment. The Liminal Playhouse presents an engrossing piece of contemporary southern drama with Mr. Universe. Layered with sharp turns of phrase and plot twists and turns, it is unapologetic and overflowing with suspense.
Tensions build in the tiny New Orleans apartment between roommates, Vick (Michael Roberts) and Judy (Eric Sharp). The contrast between these two is immediate as Judy dons a lilting dress and stringy long brown hair while Vick’s blonde curls bounce with perkiness accompanied by a gorgeous green dress. While they are startlingly different in presentation, they share a deep desire for something more. Sharp and Roberts sling verbal zingers and jokes at one another with prowess and control. Roberts presents a fully realized, mature performance. Far beyond a flamboyant drag queen, his Vick is wise and gentle with paternal instincts that turn into a protective, ferocious bite at the turn of a hat. As Judy, Eric Sharp is quick-witted and masks her lonesome sadness with comedic energy. The actor steps up to the opportunity of diving into a complex character riddled with addiction and rejection, providing a remarkably bold performance from start to finish.
At the appearance of the silent stranger (Anthony Franklin), Vick and Judy’s seemingly fabulous life begins to crumble as secrets are revealed and betrayal leads to tragedy. Franklin’s role as The Muscle Man, as it is credited in the program, is a blank canvas, a curious observer. This is a part that provides so much drama with such nuanced subtly. His origins are unknown, his actions are simple and he is silent as Vick, Judy, and others, including a prostitute named Katy Jume whom the two have taken in, project their feelings, insecurities, and desires on to this silent fellow.
In the presence of The Muscle Man, crimes and guilt come to the surface. Angela D. Williams plays Katy Jume with the strength of a survivor who does not take crap from anyone. Katy holds her secret to her chest and her pending consequence even tighter. Through Katy’s confessions and actions, Williams’ does well to emphasize the ethical struggles and burdens as she accepts her fate with grace. Heidi Yost provides a soothsayer southern gothic flair to the cast as Juel Laurie. Communicating with her dead loved ones and carrying trash, Yost brings a touch of quirky ethereality and mystery to an already complex ensemble of players.
At the risk of sounding naïve, this is the type of play that leaves you thinking, “what did I just watch?” Not easy to answer – nor should it be. The Liminal Playhouse delivers some great theater with Mr. Universe.
|August 30, 31, September 1, 6, 7 & 8 @ 7:30 pm
September 2 & 9 @ 2:00 pmTickets: $20 in advance, $22 at door
The Liminal Playhouse
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40203
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!