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Critic: Jack Florek. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 22, 2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `Venice’ at Crossroads

In America (the land of the free . . . where all men

are created equal) the issue of race relations has always been a popular

place for writers to dig for the truth between reality, high-minded

fantasy, and outright hypocrisy. That the hypocritical often wins

out is not so much a product of the times as it is, perhaps, human

nature.

"Venice," Crossroad Theater’s latest offering and a world

premiere by Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, is an ambitious portrait of

two families, one black and one white, divided by racial prejudice

but ultimately united by their love for the sea, and a kind of oddly

engineered unfolding of facts that welds their fates together.

Set in the seaside town of Venice, California, McGhee-Anderson’s real-life

longtime residence, LaBrea Mobley (Kim Brockington) excitedly prepares

for her son Leon to return home so they can celebrate his 18th birthday

together. But when Leon (Keith Josef Adkins) rushes in saying someone’s

after him, telling his Mom he needs money, and lamming out the door

again, the party plans get quickly put on hold. Soon we learn a policeman

has been shot, twice. When the hysterical LaBrea is called to the

hospital to find her son she instead encounters the policeman’s equally

hysterical wife Carrie (Tarah Flanagan). Each searches for her own

answers to both ends of the tragedy and a the ping-pong match begins.

Next we meet Tank Poe (Noel Johansen), the cop seemingly cut down

in the line of duty, lying in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist

down. His wife Carrie takes this opportunity to inform him that he’s

going to be a daddy. When Tank fails to respond in what she deems

to be an appropriately happy-go-lucky manner she storms out the door

for a cigarette, and meets a homeless man named Roland Mobley (Ray

Anthony Thomas), ranting and delusional. This apparently random encounter

is laced with meaning: We later learn that Roland is in fact the husband

of LaBrea, the father of the son of the man who shot Carrie’s husband

(the cop), as well as the Vietnam wartime buddy of her husband’s long

dead father and (as if that were not enough) a good deal of Roland’s

delusions are due to his tremendous feelings of guilt for having failed

to save Carrie’s husband’s father’s life. Do you follow?

Despite her substantial experience ("Venice" is her third

world premiere at Crossroads), McGhee-Anderson still considers herself

a part-time playwright. Most of her writing these days is done for

cable television or for movies and it shows. Her cheeky brand of social-commentary

is the kind of simple-minded fluff spoon-fed on television 24 hours

a day, seven days a week. The improbabilities of the plot, while at

first interesting and surprising, quickly become worn out. By the

second act, the audience is so far ahead of the play that the characters,

all of whom still haven’t caught on, come across as nothing short

of dimwitted.

Also, "Venice" is in dire need of editing. McGhee-Anderson

seems to have made the odd decision of compensating for the weird

interwoven storyline by simply repeating information. Even if she

decided to only say everything twice, she could still knock off a

good 40 minutes from the show. But more detrimental than its 2-1/2-hour

length, is McGhee-Anderson’s penchant for consistently undercutting

any scenes that have real emotion in them with a joke. Whether it’s

a wife visiting her husband in the hospital, or a physically and emotionally

battered man exchanging his first words in 12 years with his beloved

wife, the first thing out of these characters’ mouths is an inappropriate

elbow-in-your-ribs, funnyism. I suspect this is one of the demands

of writing for television.

On the other hand, Timothy Douglas’s direction allows for a fluid

performance style and smooth scene transitions. Rarely are the actors

caught in one place, mere talking heads. This is to his credit, because

although "Venice" is a long play, it could seem a whole lot

longer. It was well into the second act before I noticed audience

members starting to shift in their seats; although the play eventually

earned a standing ovation from many.

Acting quality here is a mixed bag. Kim Brockington, who plays LaBrea

Mobley, is strikingly beautiful and capable of offering a varied array

of emotions. Ray Anthony Thomas, as her husband Roland, is the most

skillful actor on the stage. He pushes past hackneyed shortcuts and

delivers a performance of real nuance. Watching him is such a pleasure,

one is almost tempted to forgive the play’s shortcomings. Tarah Flanagan,

unfortunately, more than compensates for the temptation. Her one-note

performance in such a prominent role is painful.

Even in this, the 21st century, racism will not go away. As a TV culture,

Americans have become used to receiving sugar-coated one-dimensional

answers to complex problems. We’re used to hypocrisy. And as this

political year will once again make plain, we’re accustomed to being

lied to. But why does it hurt so much more when the lies come from

the theater stage?

— Jack Florek

Venice, Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick, 732-249-5560. Through April 9. $24.50-$31.50.


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