Saturday, April 9, 2016

Head of Passes **

A program note says that playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s current play, now at the Public Theater, was inspired by the Book of Job. While the faith of matriarch Shelah (Phylicia Rashad) is also sorely tested by multiple tragedies, there is an important difference between her and Job. Despite her outward piety, we learn in the play’s final moments that she is far from guiltless. The setting is a former b&b at the mouth of the Mississippi where Shelah has lived alone since the death of her beloved husband. She has two sons, the successful but hot-tempered Aubrey (Francois Battiste) and the likable but unreliable Spencer (J. Bernard Calloway), who both live nearby. They have arranged a surprise party for her birthday and invited her vivacious old friend Mae (Arnetia Walker) and Dr. Anderson (Robert Joy), the only person who knows that Shelah is dying. Breaker (John Earl Jelks), a crusty old family friend, snd his son Crier (Kyle Beltran) have been hired to serve at the party. We also meet the mercurial Cookie (Alana Arenas), the illegitimate daughter that Shelah’s husband brought home as an infant whom Shelah has raised as her own, but who is now a drug addict who avoids the family home. The raging storm and leaky roof portend ill. The first act is a sometimes uneven mix of comedy and drama that ends with a bang.  Most of the second act is an extended monologue for Shelah, who tries unsuccessfully to find the divine purpose in her misfortunes. Rashad is superb but her full-throttle performance was not enough to distract me from the play’s weaknesses. The entire cast is strong. I was disappointed that Beltran, so fine in McCraney’s Choir Boy as well as in Fortress of Solitude, never gets to perform the song he was supposed to sing at the party. The set by G.W. Mercier certainly commands our attention. Toni-Leslie James's costumes are appropriate. Tina Landau directs with a feeling for the material. I give McCraney credit for trying something different with each play, but I found the current play overwrought, muddled and disjointed, less satisfying than either his Choir Boy or Wig Out. The audience was very enthusiastic. Running time: 2 hours including intermission.

No comments: