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