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The River Crosses Rivers: Series B – Off Broadway Theater Review

 

A STRONGER CURRENT THAN B

 

River Crosses Rivers Series ATheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published October 2, 2009

 

The River Crosses Rivers:  Series A

played Off Broadway at the Ensemble Studio Theater

closed September 27

 

Some rivers have strong currents that take us to places we either want to return to, visit for the first time, or claw the torrents desperately to avoid.  The Ensemble Studio Theatre and Going to the River's production, The River Crosses Rivers: Series A, has all of those adventures and a few more.  In it, seven female playwrights of color use short plays to take us on a ride filled with laughter, spirituality, politics, and horror.  And though the journey is sometimes bumpy, the flow is steady enough to see you through it.

 

Easing you into the lineup is Naveen Bahar Choudhury's “The Kitchen or 9 ½ Minutes of Subcontinental Absurdity”, a hilarious and smart satire about Indian customs and match-making rituals.  Under Jamie Richards' sharp direction, the cast's inflated acting and animated banter keep you engaged and amused. 

 

N.N. Ewing's “Angels in the Parking Lot” may stoke your interest in the beginning because of its unusual dramatization of a common theme, but the execution is too convoluted to maintain it.  This spiritually-heavy tale, about a wife who uses a free-verse spouting angel to confront her husband about his adultery, is original but gets too complicated when it paints a picture of networking angels.  The cast is strong, but Peter Jay Fernandez stands out as Darryl, the cheating spouse that twitches at the snap of his wife's finger.

 

Unfortunately, most of the things are memorable in Ruby Dee's “The Stepmother” are memorable for the wrong reason.  Although the dialogue in the story about the difficult relations between an adult daughter and her stepparent rings true, the presentation feels more like a family argument than theater.  As Dolores, Mary Hodges is great at pretending to prepare breakfast by going through all of the motions (pouring and stirring the non-existent oatmeal).  But when she appears in the play a few moments later with real, prepared oatmeal, it violates the “truth” of the staging. Still, Sound Designer Bill Toles does a great job of shaping the characters with the simple use of classical music in the beginning to illustrate Dolores' privileged life and soulful Motown to tie in with Momsey's (Carmen Delavallade) harsh roots.  But Momsey's life is not the only thing that's rough and tough.

 

Kara Lee Corthron's “Laybug Gonna Getcha” is a hard-edged tale about a blue-wig wearing punk-rocker in the 70s trying to make it big during the breakout days of Blondie.  This tale distinguishes itself as bold and unpredictable, as is the performance of Toks Olagundye as Ladybug, the punk-rocker.  Though she has very little chemistry with Cockroach (Adam Couperthwaite), her manager, she sizzles onstage and carries the Blondie-hating to a knee-slapping level.

 

You're not likely to laugh during France-Luce Benson's “Risen from the Dough”, a sociopolitically-charged play about two Haitian sisters trying to keep their bakery open.  The play introduces the theme of assimilating in America, but doesn't take it anywhere beyond what could be dubbed as a “Haitian in America” special.  Expect ranting and raging against American ways and some choice Haitian Creole words and cuisine, but don't expect anything else.

 

Luckily, you can expect a wide range of emotion and experiences with Lynn Nottage's “Banana Beer Bath”, a solo performance about a woman's horrific childhood memory.  The story, in which the Woman, played by the fantastic Elain Graham, escapes from rapist soldiers with her sisters, is powerful and gripping.  Though the monologue would have been best delivered standing up than sitting down, the Woman's warrior spirit siphons through Graham.

 

That same warrior spirit, though conveyed in smaller doses, comes through Tameka (Erin Weems) and her Granny (Venida Evans) in Bridgette Wimberly's “Rally.”  While waiting courtside for one of Obama's pre-presidency speeches, the delightful pair deliberate the prospect of change. Although the standard old vs. new discussions take place with little ingenuity, the chemistry between these two actors makes this piece lively and entertaining.

 

If you're looking for a little bit of everything to diversify your night, The River Crosses Rivers: Series A is a good way to do that.  The production may not be flawless, but there's enough quality material to prevent you from minding so much.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

read Cindy Pierre's review of The River Crosses Rivers: Series B

 

 

 
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