No Place to Be Somebody, Stage Acting Ensemble. In the two years since he directed an uneven production of Charles Gordone's 1969 Pulitzer-winning drama for Stage Acting Ensemble, David A. Mason seems to have gotten no better handle on the drunkards, dreamers, hookers, and G-men who populate Johnny's Bar on Chicago's south side. Though Gordone's complex urban black underworld calls for gritty realism, the corrupt city officials who come down on the small-time hood Johnny Williams seem here to have sprung out of a Damon Runyon novel, and the naive college student and whiny prostitute who inexplicably fall for Johnny would be offensive if they weren't so laughably implausible. The grim twists and turns of the plot remain uninvolving because Mason doesn't make them believable.
What this production has going for it is just what made it watchable two years ago: Stephan Turner, a frighteningly volcanic actor who makes the violent, unpredictable, despicably sexist Johnny a riveting presence at every moment. Turner is again ably supported by Al Boswell as the eerie, ethereal Gabe Gabriel, a downtrodden actor and writer thwarted by the system; Ruby Steele as a snappy but lonely nurse (the only three-dimensional female character); and Kenneth Johnson as a demonically angelic longtime criminal trying to go straight.
But given this production's highly suspect array of supporting players and a tone that shifts uncomfortably between straight drama and B-movie parody, this play--the first by a black author to win the Pulitzer--seems little more than an outdated curiosity. --Adam Langer