The River Crosses Rivers
nytheatre.com review by Paul Hufker
September 18, 2009
An evening of one-acts is usually a difficult one to pull off. Not only is the one-act a challenging piece to write, stylistically, but the evening, in theory, must have enough commonalities among the pieces to weave a cohesive throughline that carries the audience subtly and effectively through a series of different voices, different actors, and sometimes different realms. In this case, The River Crosses Rivers Series B presents works by women of color, and all the plays involved, on some level, include themes revolving around either the issues of being a woman, being a person of color, or both.
The first play out is Hot Methuselah by J.e. Franklin. It is a charming and funny piece about an older mother whose husband was just hours ago caught with a woman of ill repute. Her son and she attempt to hammer out either the details of her staying or of her leaving, as noisy neighbors drool. The piece is a good starter, and showcases bold choices from good actors, but though it effectively elicits a slice of life, I felt it was a slice I'd seen several times before.
The second play of the evening is entitled Truth Be Told by Melody Cooper. It recounts the lives of two female journalists—one Iraqi, living in Iraq; and one American, living in Brooklyn (but headed to Iraq). The women turn a long-distance business connection into a friendship, and we later see the awful, dire prejudices women are often subjected to in male-centrist societies. The play has a lovely moment at the end that honors all fallen truth-tellers (though it was suggested to me that to see the documentary film of the actual lives of the journalists was far more effective).
The third play is Spirit Sex: A Paranormal Romance by Desi Moreno-Penson about a young, goofy, dippy, guy who has the spirit of an attractive Latina locked in a room in his home. The play has little if anything to do with the issues of being a woman, of color, or a woman of color, and frankly, after the joke was gotten (to considerable laughter, as the actors did an amusing turn) it felt like a long wait for the end with little payoff.
Next is Jesse by P.J. Gibson, about a late-20s, attractive, well-to-do married couple of color who enjoy their lives, their possessions, and each other. The big thing for them is the celebration of birthdays, and around this issue the play centrally revolves. Surprises become a motif but perhaps coming home unannounced for a birthday is not the best idea, this time... The fact that this play too has almost no commonalities with the others (excepting that the actors are of color, but it is by no means a pivotal plot point) wasn't as troublesome as listening to their lengthy discussions of how much they enjoy the fancy things they own, which put me off enough (despite the earnest skill of the actors) that by the end I didn't care what happened to them.
The fifth play in the evening was for me by far the most engrossing. Entitled His Daddy, and written by Cori Thomas, the play centers around two men, who we quickly learn, are in a room at a courthouse, after just having seen their child's kidnapper and killer brought to what I assume was his arraignment. While one actor is black and one white, the play isn't at its core about race, and not at all about women. However, the actors are so engrossing that my heart pounded the entire play, and when it was over the audience breathed a collective breath together; one of anger, confusion, and empathy. Actor Lindsay Smiling is quite good, but Matthew Montelongo gives the hands-down best performance of the evening.
The sixth play is an amusing if predictable piece about internet dating entitled Sloppy Second Chances. Written by Mrinalini Kamath, it opens on Amita, who is waiting for her blind date to arrive. When Nikhil does, he is (of course) nearly the opposite of what she would have liked. Ultimately, however, his awkward charm and sincerity win him another chance (of course). Though the actors do a lovely job, both, and the play is amusing, it is decidedly and disappointingly much more like television than theatre.
The final play is an interesting one. Dialectic by Kia Corthron could have been pretentious with its opening banter about the seven deadly sins. It could have been esoteric or boring or muddy, but it wasn't. It is moreover an interesting analysis of morality, which funnels down to the women's rights discussion of abortion, an issue with which the characters of "He" and "She" are intimately tied. Ultimately, it is a unique piece (Samuel Beckett antecedently employed), both funny and menacing, which finds thought-provoking ends to justify its acceptably cryptic means.
All in all, The River Crosses Rivers Series B is an amusing night of theatre, with pockets here and there of undertow that add complexity and purpose. But, for still as these waters may run, they don't often enough run deep. Too many references to sex and dating, many violent, roller-coaster shifts of theme and mood, and a few plays that aren't terribly relevant, or terribly good, left me wanting an exploration that dove consistently more deeply into two things of which I know nothing: what it is to be a woman, and what it is to be of color.