2004 WHEN YOU COMIN’ BACK, RED RYDER by Mark Medoff
Robert Avila SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN
A frightening but witty sociopath (Mark Williams) takes five people hostage at an out-of-the-way New Mexico diner in Multi Ethnic Theater's
production of Mark Medoff's darkly amusing 1973 play. Suggesting the '60s generation as betrayed by the Vietnam era, Teddy and girlfriend
Cheryl (Lily Tung) plan to rob an affluent couple (Kara Hughes and Gary Pettinger) who've stopped in for breakfast, but Teddy finds himself
irresistibly drawn to tormenting the small, empty lives of the regulars: gas station attendant Lyle (Omar M'Sai), misfit waitress Angel (AJ
Davenport), and especially the pretentious grave-shift cook Stephen "Red" Ryder (Eric Johnson), whose nickname and outmoded '50s mien
speak loudly to Teddy (with a mixture of fury and fascination) of the mythic sham of the American West. In turn, Teddy forces confessions and
actions from his captives that will change them irrevocably. Lewis Campbell directs brave performances that, together with a well-appointed set
design, do fitful justice to a play both very much of its time and worth a second look. Johnson and Williams have a tendency to overplay their
admittedly supersized roles, but they and the rest of the cast find a solid groove by the second act, when a dramatic climax and Medoff's theme of
hollow American nostalgia come together with winning ferocity.
Jack Foley KPFA RADIO
I saw some genuine theatrical magic last night at Multi Ethnic Theater’s production of Mark Medoff’s 1974 play, When You Comin Back, Red
Ryder. At the very end of the play, Angel, a woman described in Medoff’s script as “obese” and played last night by A.J. Davenport is alone on
the stage, the only inhabitant left in the dreary café in which she works. Much has happened throughout the play, and the stage has been filled
with people, but now there is no one except her. Red Ryder, the only man she has ever loved, and whom she hoped might have feelings for her,
has left to make his fortune elsewhere. One feels that he might well be back, that his fortune-making scheme will turn out to be a disaster, but for
the moment he has certainly abandoned Angel. In any case, she now understands that he does not return her love and that, even if he comes
back, he will never return her love. Angel sits at the counter of the café. She picks up Red’s half-eaten doughnut and begins to eat it. There is no
sound: no dialogue, no music. Just a fat girl who now knows that she will never be loved and for whom sweets (even half-eaten ones) may be the
best substitute she can find for a lover. She says nothing; she just sits there for a moment and eats. It is utterly magical. All of the loneliness of
the world seems to gather at that moment and be present at this down-and-out, battered, loser’s café. Ms. Davenport is simply wonderful. There
is no one but us to love her and we do.
Chloe Veltman SF WEEKLY
When Teddy, a brain-shot Vietnam veteran, and his spacey girlfriend, Cheryl, barge into a roadside diner in southern New Mexico one Sunday
morning demanding more than plates of steak and eggs and a little light conversation from the terrified brunchers, personalities collide and
change forever. Mixing hippie drug-runners with straight-laced out-of-towners and local workers, Mark Medoff's 1973 play When You Comin'
Back, Red Ryder explodes the flower child idyll of "love and peace" while tearing down the myth of the Old American West. Multi Ethnic Theater's
production goes deep into the dramatic core of the piece, creating a brooding atmosphere of isolation, disaffected youth, and tumbleweed living.
The actors depict Medoff's demandingly diverse characters bravely and A.J. Davenport -- as the sweetly acerbic waitress, Angel, shuffling about
director-designer Lewis Campbell's evocative set with her piles of napkins and coffee mugs -- creates a perfect balance between understated
melancholy and outspoken sass.
2003 THE ISLAND AND SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD by Athol Fugard
Robert Avila SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN
At notorious Robben Island prison camp (Myers Clark and David Stewart) rehearse a performance of Antigone, which is he continuation of their
struggle by other means. Next, in Sizwe Bansi is Dead, a timely twist on the perils of the identity card, we meet Styles (Vernon Medearis), an
Multi Ethnic Theater presents two one-acts by renowned South African playwright Athol Fugard. In the first, worker (David The Island,Stewart)
befriended by a savvy local (Fred Pitts). Both plays grew out of improvisations with Fugard's actor-collaborators John Kani and Winston Ntshona
in Capetown in the early 1970s – when the reality of apartheid was such that the script for Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, the story goes, could not be
written down (lest it end up in a South African court as evidence of subversion) – and director Lewis Campbell's capable cast achieves solid
results in these demanding roles. While echoing the plight of migrants and colonized the world over, these luminous sketches contain a surprising
amount of humor and joy, bringing home the horror of an unjust system precisely by being consummately human portraits.
Doug Konecky, America On Line - Entertainment
It's always a welcome joy when a small theater puts it all together. The three talented actors in Multi-Ethnic Theater's production bring the full
emotional range of Fugard's characters to life. Vernon Medearis's Styles, the township photographer with a long solo story to tell in the play's first
scene, is angry while reflective, understanding while at the same time a bit of a hustler. His hilarious recounting of his years working at the Ford
plant in Port Elizabeth, South Africa is interrupted by the appearance of Sizwe Bansi -- that is, Robert Zwelinzima -- who would like a photograph
taken, but he isn't too sure of his name. The first scene ends with the brightness of a flash bulb, and in the second scene Sizwe Bansi (David
Stewart) and Buntu (Fred Pitts) begin to act out the three-scene flashback that eventually unlocks the mystery of why Sizwe Bansi is now "dead,"
and is using the new name of Robert Zwelinzima. By the end of the play, Medearis, Stewart and Pitts have provided an insight into the grimy
world of South African apartheid, as well as a personal revelation about the raw power of a small cast in a cramped theater with a story to tell.
2001 NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY by Charles Gordone
Doug Konecky AMERICA ON LINE -- ENTERTAINMENT
You'll be hard pressed to say anything critical about this staging of Charles Gordone's award-winning play. The actors, Kijahre Fikiri (in the role of
Gabe Gabriel), Ben Dziuba (Shanty Mulligan) and Fabian Herd (Johnny Williams), are first rate and exciting. Herd is explosive, Dziuba pulls off a
thespian ready for prime time. Three other notable performances come from Rachel Raijput as Dee Jacobsen and Shaun Landry as Cora
Beasely, both of whom are excellent foils for the fiery Johnny; and a terrific romp by Multi Ethnic Theater's veteran Vernon Medearis as over-the-
hill gangster Sweets Crane. Director Lewis Campbell's Greenwich Village café set provides plenty of space for a large cast to interact.
2008 A SECRET FOR NEXT SUNDAY World Premiere by Charles Johnson
Jack Foley, KPFA-FM
Charles Johnson’s A Secret for Next Sunday is a vital, at times brutal glimpse into the intricacies of family life. The play keeps close to the real,
so that “theatrical” or melodramatic plot lines which might have been developed -- aren’t: things that happen, the way they do in life. Someone
dies, but there is no “reason” for it other than the fact that people die. It is the least judgmental of plays, but one of the truest: a look at suffering
which insists on nothing but the inexorable fact that life exists. Lewis Campbell’s direction and an excellent cast keep the play as convincing as the
argument your next-door neighbors have every Tuesday. A Secret for Next Sunday should not be kept secret.
Wanda Sabir, San Francisco Bay View
Playwright Charles Johnson is interested in race as a theme in his work. His new play, A Secret for Next Sunday, is certainly that. Set in Chicago
during a time when youth were unaware of the racial strife that brought many African Americans to northern cities, the lead character Jim decides
to address this disrespect after a drug lord takes his parking space one time too many. There are parallel stories being told: one set in Alabama,
the other in Chicago. Two couples Jim and Mattie and Bessie and McCoy have known each other from childhood. The men came north together
where they met their future wives, whom they thought were northern girls. What I like most about the play is the relationship between the two
men and the women, not to mention the couples. McCoy really loves his friend, and accepts him, faults and all. Pay attention to the Emmit Till
reflections,. They foreshadow the scenes on the other side of the stage, the scenes in which Jim replays in his mind repeatedly over the course
of the evening. He can’t change what he did, but he certainly can learn from it.
|MET is a project of Theater Residencies, Incorporated (TRI ), a California non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation.
|REVIEWS OF MET PRODUCTIONS
Most recent first. Scroll down for earlier productions.
For reviews of August Wilson plays (seven so far) CLICK HERE.
2012 TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK the Lorraine Hansberry story in her own words
Jack Foley, KPFA-FM
Lewis Campbell, retired from teaching but not from theater, is and an old hand at ensemble work. He has brought To Be Young, Gifted and Black
to his Multi Ethnic Theater at the Gough Street Playhouse in San Francisco. It's a terrific production directed by Campbell and featuring a cast of
eight actors, AJ Davenport, Danielle Doyle, Douglas Marshall, Fabian Herd, Jessica Jade Rudholm, Judith Sims, Robin Hughes and Vernon D.
Medearis, all of whom play a variety of roles and all of whom, at one point or another, speak Hansberry's words. The current production is a
dance of Hansberry's consciousness as actors' bodies move swiftly and subtly around the theater space. The play is in effect choreographed
and Hansberry's words are made alive by a variety of voices: Hansberry is everyone in this play. The cast is uniformly excellent, and there are
many stand-out moments. AJ Davenport, Fabian Herd, Vernon D. Medearis, Douglas Marshall, and Jessica Jade Rudholm are all MET veterans
who deliver their lines with customary brio, humor and effectiveness, but there is no one in the production who is lacking.
Audience Comments, from Goldstar Events
☆☆☆☆☆ The play was very inspirational. The actors did an excellent job capturing several poignant periods in Lorraine Hansberry's
life. Lorraine Hansberry was an incredible writer and her timeless work speaks to today's generation.
☆☆☆☆☆ I absolutely loved this play. The acting was superb. I am away from home and do not have my program here, so I cannot single
out any particular actor, but they were all excellent.
☆☆☆☆☆ My son and I enjoyed this event. I enjoyed learning about the life and thoughts of Lorraine Hansberry. I was impressed with the
passion of the actors. This was my first play at this playhouse, will go again.
☆☆☆☆☆ This is a must see show for anyone interested in theatre, black history and women's history. Young writers and actors
especially will benefit from Hansberry's inspiring writings. I was thoroughly entertained and educated.
☆☆☆☆☆ We really loved it. The acting was excellent and the story was incredibly inspiring. I highly recommend it.
☆☆☆☆☆ An amazing performance, talented actors, interestingly presented. We were spellbound. This theatre is a great SF treasure.
☆☆☆☆☆ Great performance. Always wanted to see this play, and this was a great version of it. Actors were terrific!
Dan Wilson, Bay Area On Line Theater
Master Harold ... and the boys is one of those plays that manages to be beautiful, thoughtful, powerful, and consciousness raising all at the same
time. It manages to do this, all within a single scene. From a writing standpoint, this impresses me because I have a very hard time writing long
scenes. This play is an hour and a half in one place, in one conversation. That's a major accomplishment in terms of writing. But as good as
that writing is, without great actors, it would be for naught. Fortunately, Multi Ethnic Theater has three wonderful actors.
Fabian Herd is quite good as Willie, the slow-witted busboy. Willie doesn't look like much on the surface, but is a surprisingly complex
character. Seemingly an innocent, we discover that he has a horrible temper and frequently beats his girlfriends. In many ways, Willie is a mirror
of who Hally (Harold) is in the present: a child-man who lashes out thoughtlessly at those he loves when confronted with ugly realities beyond his
control. Herd has the difficult task of having to react and observe the majority of the play. When the focus is on him, Herd succeeds in presenting
a complete human being and not just a sketch of a character type. When the focus is not on him, Herd almost melts into the background ...
focused on what is happening, sending you back to the action in case your eye should stray upon him.
Rama Kellum is riveting as Sam, the complex, compassionate, intelligent, and humane waiter/server. If Willie is a mirror of who Hally is now, Sam is
the model for what Hally wishes he was. An uneducated man with a piercing intelligence, and eloquent spirit, and a wisdom that runs deep. Kellum
is deeply rooted in Sam, living so intently in the moment that its very easy to forget that you're watching a play. You see and hear his love for
Hally in his voice, in his face, in his words. What's more, you see the anger, betrayal, and pain that comes when Hally lashes out in childish fury.
Kellum also has a wonderful sense of timing, bringing a consistent humor to the piece as he constantly questions young Hally's assumptions and
Jason Arquin is fabulous as Hally. Young Master Harold is a challenging part, in that an adult actor must play a child on the brink of manhood. Old
enough to want to enter adult society, but child enough to still find girls icky. Arquin manages to balance nicely between boy and man in his
portrayal. We see a budding intellect, a social blindness, a cultural naiveté, a troubled youth ...
2000 TWELVE ANGRY JURORS by Reginald Rose
Doug Konecky, America On Line - Entertainment
Twelve Angry Jurors keeps us involved in the detective work and has us cheering for the jury when it arrives at the proper verdict.
Zoe Kahana, Director, Community Arts Ticket Service
The performance Sunday evening was crisp and thought provoking. I'm proud that Center Stage is able to partner such creative work.
2002 THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE by William Saroyan
Jack Foley, KPFA-FM
I saw -- and very much enjoyed - -the recent Multi Ethnic Theater production of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life, produced in San
Francisco, the city where the play takes place. The original is set in the 30's when World War II is imminent. MET's production is set in the 70's
when the Vietnam War is important: "BOOOOOOOOOM WAR! O.K. War. I retreat. I hate war. I move to Sacramento." The character who
speaks those words is Harry, the eager-to-please young dancer/comedian originally played by Gene Kelly. In Campbell's production the
character is played by a young African-American woman, Brandy Evans -- but both the charm and the naiveté of the character come through.
"Nick", the bartender, also undergoes a change of gender: A.J. Davenport, a woman, plays the part in a wonderfully bravura and entirely
convincing way. "Tom" is still something of dolt and a child, but in this production he is African-American. Indeed, the only African-American
character included in Saroyan's play, Wesley, is here played by a white man John Jamieson whose piano playing is, suitably "out of this world."
Melinda Maximova is excellent in the pivotal role of Kitty, stunning in her entrance, she is almost too beautiful for the character. In the original
production Joe's speech about money was deemed too controversial and cut. In MET's production. T.J. Pierce as Joe gave us one of the
evening's thrilling moments when, remaining seated, he magnificently directed the speech towards the slumming "society people" visiting the bar.
Vernon Medearis was also a standout as he turned the garrulous Kit Carson character into a bona-fide African-American male. Harry Siltonen was
an excellent "Arab," repeating the important line, "No foundation -- the way down the line" Willie, Saroyan's "marble-game maniac," was played
superbly -- in a wheelchair!--by a disabled Japanese-American woman, Stephanie Miyashiro. The playwright's "Newsboy" was played by disabled
African-American actress Afi-Tiombe Kambon, who also sang an excellent version of the Irish song, "Danny Boy." When asked whether she is
Irish, the character replies, "No, I'm Greek."
Campbell's shifts of ethnicity and gender are entirely in the spirit of the play, which deliberately keeps itself open to diversity: whatever comes into
"Nick's American Place" comes into it. "Maybe," speculates Nick, "they can't feel at home anywhere else." The play's openness is the source of
both its optimism -- despite the fact that there is "No foundation -- all the way down the line"-- and the sense it projects of a precious, guarded
For those who wear the label "San Franciscan" as a badge of honor, the hottest ticket in town is the latest production of William Saroyan's 1940
Pulitzer Prize winning The Time of Your Life at the Gough Street Playhouse. With universal themes of the class struggle, this "Time" is proof
positive that cross-cultural and cross-gender casting works. The action takes place at Nick's, a San Francisco waterfront hangout, only Nick –
imbued with great compassion by AJ Davenport – is a woman. Myers Clark and Veronica Rocha are also standouts as the young lovers, Tom
William Saroyan had a taste for stories and plays about the average Joe, and The Time of Your Life is his epic. Multi Ethnic Theater has cross-
cast most of the characters. Nick the bartender is played by a woman, A.J. Davenport; the noisy longshoreman McCarthy is played by Bennie
Lewis, who's black; and Willie the pinball wizard is played by Stephanie Miyashiro, in a wheelchair. Lewis and Vernon Medearis (playing a showy
cowboy known as Kit Carson) know how to project their lines. Director Lewis Campbell has designed a brilliant set, consisting of a full bar with a
working beer tap. The show captures the sound and rhythm of a waterfront dive.
1996 PURLIE VICTORIOUS by Ossie Davis
Lysa Allman SAN FRANCISCO BAY VIEW Purlie Victorious truly is.
Potrero Hill's Multi Ethnic Theatre (MET) is now presenting well-known author and playwright Ossie Davis' outrageous comedy,
Purlie Victorious. Set in the cotton plantation country of the Old South in the late 1950s, Purlie Victorious tells the story of an African American
preacher who returns to his homeland to reclaim the property that should rightfully belong in his family. The twist is that he must outwit the old
white plantation owner to do it.
Starring ip the lead role of Purlie Victorious Judson is Rama Kellum gives a strong performance as the smart but crafty preacher,clearly
demonstrating his theatrical affinity and experience as an actor. Of his cast members, Kellum says they are a real ensemble that gives the
audience the best shows they can. "We change gender and nationality in roles all the time. We do theatre for the community and that is-what it is
Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, Purlie's primary accomplice, is portrayed by Tracy Ashford is hysterical as Lutiebelle, a young, somewhat socially
uneducated but bright young girl who has been shuffled from White household to White household as a cook. Equally wonderful and believable in
the role of O'l Cap'n Cotchipee, the old white plantation owner; is Andy Hamner portraying an old "Southern boy" who has deluded himself into
believing that he is such a good "Master" that he is actually respected and revered by most Black folks - especially those who work for him.
Strong performances were also turned in by James Otis Brown and Topazz, who played Gitlow and Missy Hudson, as well as Janet Robinson in
the role of Idella, The audience, which ranged from teenagers to elders, all representing various ethnic groups, responded favorably, laughing
enthusiastically throughout the performance.
Max Millard THE SUN REPORTER A Pearl of a Parody
If you were clicking through the TV dial and you landed on this scene, what would be your reaction? An elderly white man wearing a Colonel
Sanders outfit and brandishing a bullwhip, says to, his African American field worker: "My old Confederate father told me on his deathbed: 'Feed;'
the Negroes first, after the horses.' The worker, a Stepin Fetchit character who calls himself "a,
Nigra two Ol' three hundred' percent," cheerfully responds;' "You the boss, boss," and to lift his master's spirits, sings "Old: Black Joe" on
command. To present such material on stage to a mainly black audience" and to get laughs, not gasps, is a neat balancing act. It works in Purlie
Victorious, Ossie Davis' 1961 farce of the Old South, now in performance at Multi Ethnic Theater.
Rama Kellum makes a superb Purlie. Elegant and dignified, with a pleasant baritone voice that lends itself to powerful, moving oratory, he has a
talent for sermonizing that would make most real ministers envious. He is well matched by Tracy Ashford in the role of Lutiebelle, the blushing,
innocent young girl who worships him. Peggy Royster is another standout, in the role of Idella, the hilariously bad-tempered maid who intimidates
the other principal white character, the captain's son Charlie. When she pushes him around, calling him "boy" and "son," and telling him to keep
his mouth shut, he can only reply sheepishly, "Yes, Ma'am." Rex Southard js well cast as Charlie, giving an appropriatcly wimpering performance,
and even delivering a credible southern accent. James Otis Brown is memorable as Gitlow Judson, the smiling, shuffling, field hand who secretly
plots to gain the upper hand, and Topazz makes a believable Missy Judson.
Now in its fourth season at the location, the Multi Ethnic Theatre lives up to its name. The staff, the actors and the audience for this production
were a good reflection of the racially mixed neighborhood, bringing people together for a,common goal. An organization like this deserves support.
CITY ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT -- SF LIVE
Community theatre is alive and well and living atop San Francisco's Potrero Hill. From its eyrie in the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, with
spectacular views of downtown and the East Bay, the Multi Ethnic Theatre group is carrying the banner for low-bud- get, seat-of-the-pants
theatre. But don't expect performances to match the meager resources. MET's hard-working group of actors are capable of conjuring
characterizations worthy of many a downtown stage. Before a recent rehearsal of Purlie Victorious, Ossie Davis' '50s Deep South tale of
so-called afIection between masters and servants, director Lewis Campbell gathered his team as if for a pre-game locker room p(r)ep talk.
Nobody told Campbell he's just going out onto the practice field and not about to play in the Superbowl, as he hands out small custom-
scribbled note pages to each cast member, suggests ges- tures, explains motivation, dashes to stage positions, even quotes Aristotle
("the first great theatre critic") amid talk of discovery and reversal, influence and resistance. If, according to the play's Missy Judson (boldly
portrayed by Topazz), "Life can be a lot of fun when ain't nobody lookin," things should really get going when the audience turns up.
1995 SARAJEVO VOICES and EURIPIDES' THE TROJAN WOMEN
Winifred Mann The Potrero View
In The Trojan Women it was refreshing to see how naturally and gracefully actors with disabilities were integrated into the action. With its themes
of war, rape, slavery, lust and loss, the play maintains its poignancy even today. The contemporary feel, fed by modern costumes and sound
effects lasts throughout the production. In Afi-Tiiombe Kabon as Hecuba the pain of loss seems quite real.
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Harrowing modern content...a compelling piece of theatre. Afi-Tiombe Kambon is strong and resonant as Hecuba, and Wanda Johnson achieves
vivid emotional immediacy as Andromache. Gabrielle Motarjemi is convincing as a shell-shocked priestess cradling a hand grenade as she
waltzes to Strauss's Blue Danube
2017 REFUGEE VOICES AND EURIPIDES' THE TROJAN WOMEN
Jack Foley, KPFA-FM
Sometimes you have to go back 2500 years to find something that resonates deeply with the present. That’s what director Lewis Campbell did in
re-mounting a play originally presented in 415 BC. It’s the end of the Trojan War. What we see is “the Trojan women”; what we feel is their pain.
Campbell prefaces the production with “Refugee Voices,” a short, touching reading of various statements by refugees and he closes it with the
famous Emma Lazarus poem of welcome to immigrants, “Give me your tired, your poor...” In between is the open wound of Euripides’ vision.
The cast is excellent, speaking Edith Hamilton’s translation of the Greek and making us experience it as near contemporary speech. Marjorie
Crump-Shears as Hecuba is a stand-out, bringing us near to tears at every moment of her performance. But everyone does well. It’s always a
pleasure to see MET regular Vernon Medearis in any production, and there are strong performances by Federico Edwards as both Poseidon and
Menelaus and Lily Tung Crystal as the tragic Cassandra. Heather Lukens is excellent as Andromache, a strong mother in great pain as her
child is taken from her. Joanna Mahaffy makes a lovely Helen of Troy. Part of Euripides’ Chorus is wittily presented as a War Correspondent,
complete with hand-held microphone (also Joanna Mahaffy, but now wearing glasses).
It’s important to note that Euripides’ play was presented to GREEKS—the same people who have caused such pain to women we see before us.
What does it mean to be a warrior, to kill a woman’s husband and then take her as your slave? Not without reason does Campbell refer to
Euripides as a playwright/activist. Not without reason too was a comment someone made to Campbell: “How relevant this play seems.” In the wake
of the me too movement, we recognize clearly the deep power of women even in the patriarchal time of Euripides.
Evelyn Arevalo -- THEATRIUS.com
Director Lewis Campbell packs two spectacular tales of terror and pain into a brief 70 minute extravaganza. By the end, we are left speechless
and angry. Campbell embraces big drama. He shows an adulterous Helen of Troy (sultry Joanna Mahaffy) emerging from her self-imprisonment in
a tower, wearing a beautiful, ivory-toned satin dress, dripping with jewels. As Helen pleads her case, she seduces us with her bewitching looks
and poetic voice, even though we know she’s guilty as sin. Helen manipulates her jilted husband Menelaus (imposing Federico Edwards). Even
though she expresses remorse, Helen remains a “dark feminist.” She has profited from her affair with Paris in Troy.
In Euripides’ “The Trojan Women,” five desolate Trojan War survivors are waiting to be deported—to be sex slaves to their new, cruel Greek
masters. They include the former Trojan Queen Hecuba (phenomenal Marjorie Crump-Shears), and her virginal priestess daughter Cassandra
(troubled Lily Tung Crystal), who has gone mad. The five women embody centuries of suffering, touchingly.
Campbell’s adaptation leads his characters to spend their time in a constant state of PTSD, the aftermath of all war. Multi Ethnic Theater unravels
the grief and pain of women left behind, when everything they have come to love has been destroyed. The shifting bodies and faces of “Refugee
Voices and Trojan Women” reveal stories rarely heard or often forgotten. When will mankind end the suffering of war?
2014 World Premier INDIAN SUMMER by Charles Johnson
Jack Foley, KPFA-FM
Indian Summer — a new comedy/drama by San Francisco actor/playwright Charles Johnson, is an examination of what it is like to live in an
environment in which everything, including the very air, its unseasonal heat, contributes to failure. The name of the environment is Alabama.
Johnson, a native Alabamian (born in Heflin), knows what it is like.
The play deals with the wild, loony hopes of a white, racist, embittered, considerably tattooed, rather loveable Alabama songwriter (Charlie Ray,
played by Kevin Wisney) to “make it.” Charlie Ray is down and he is trying to be up. But he has been in prison, he needs money to cut his demo—
and he knows that he is far from prime material for Alabama employment. He is given a lot of support from his big, intelligent, sexually deprived
wife, Pearle (the always amazing A.J. Davenport in an astonishing blond wig). But he also has a scheming brother, Bobby (Paul Rodriguez) who
was the reason Charlie Ray did prison time in the first place and who is constantly trying to convince him to join him in the commission of criminal
acts. Pearle, who is sympathetic and who genuinely loves Charlie Ray, is a conniver too—though a far more intelligent one than Bobby—and
cooks up a scheme to steal half the rightful inheritance of a local man.
Against these desperate, understandable, failure-haunted whites, in a parallel universe—the whites occupy one part of the stage, the blacks
(segregated, separate but unequal) occupy another— Johnson places two African Americans, Junior (Bennie Lewis) and Emmitt (Fabian Herd).
These two deep friends talk—their dialogue is frequently hilarious—and go fishing. Junior,. a little older than his buddy, is in a wheel chair. They
are even more downtrodden than Pearle, Charlie Ray, and Bobby, but, unlike their white counterparts, they are not desperate with hope
and larcenous. They know the world—they know what it is like for black people in Alabama—but they accept it. They are what they are; and,
importantly, white people are what they are too. But perhaps some hope—wild and crazy-making as it may be—is a good thing.
That is the situation of this extraordinary, life-mirroring play. In Indian Summer tragic events occur, but character is not tragic: place is. It is
Alabama—the heat, the unfairness, the divisiveness, the ancient racism, the weather—that drives everyone down. The author, Charles Johnson,
has not fully identified with any one of his characters, but one can find pieces of his identity in many of them. Like Junior and Emmitt, he is African
American, and so he understands the situation of black people in the deep South, but like Charlie Ray he is an artist, not someone who spends
his life in talk—however rich and vital the talk may be—and fishing. In fact, everyone in the play is extraordinarily articulate: it is a talk-fest of
considerable interest. And ultimately, everyone in the play—even the scheming brother Bobby—is sympathetic. If the blacks are oppressed by the
whites—and they are—they are all oppressed by that life-destroying climate. Junior and Emmitt are delightful as they converse in their complex
friendship, but they have no ambition at all. Charlie Ray—was Charles Johnson “Charlie”?—has ambition and is genuinely trying to do something,
but he is choosing failure-guaranteeing ways in which to achieve his ambition. There they all are—black and white—unable to understand that
their true hope is in communal effort, in precisely the kind of thing to which the whole history of the South has been a tremendous obstacle.
Indian Summer is mounted beautifully by M.E.T. director/designer Lewis Campbell, who has chosen a fine cast capable of delivering the subtleties
of the playwright’s intentions. (I have not mentioned Bree Swartwood as Sarah, Bobby’s pregnant wife, or Richard Wenzel, who plays the sheriff,
but they are both excellent. And there is Denis Loiseau’s poignant song, “Back to the Top”—the composition by Charlie Ray that makes it to the
radio after Charlie Ray’s death: it encapsulates the mood of the entire piece.)
I can imagine Indian Summer playing in Alabama. I know some wonderful artists who live in that state—Jake Berry, Wayne Sides, Hank Lazer. I
think they would be the first to testify to the truth of Charles Johnson’s fine drama. It’s a mirror of a life that is in desperate need of change.
and all TRI projects.
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