SLOWDANCE IN ROOM 8-C
and AGAIN, SOMETIME SOON
ETA Creative Arts Foundation
The ETA Creative Arts Foundation's current production deserves a chance at a longer run and a wider audience. It's a shame that the double bill--Slowdance in Room 8-C and Again, Sometime Soon--must close February 7 at the ETA's south-side theater. Two outstanding leads and several fine supporting performances mark this pair of flawed but worthy one-acts.
Both plays are written and directed by Runako Jahi (best known as the author of the TV special Martin Luther King Suite), and both focus on male-female tensions--a theme also expressed in the show's set (designed by Jahi), which is hot pink and royal blue. Again, Sometime Soon, the evening's opener, has a barbed comic style that recalls the bitcheries of The Boys in the Band, but the gay, mostly white milieu has become black and mostly heterosexual here.
Preston and Ramona Dolphy--he's a shoe salesman, she's an aspiring actress--haven't slept together for a month because Preston picked up a case of clap during a minor infidelity. As the couple is bickering about this, Ramona's "friend," Vera, barges in on them, bringing along with her an uninvited party of intoxicated revelers--each of whom has his or her cross to bear and secret to share. The partiers include Vera's errant husband, whose other conquests happen to include Ramona; Gerald, a hammy actor who earns his living as the "token black" in mediocre midwestern rep companies; Rose-Lillian, a busty, aging ingenue waiting in vain for her young Latino lover to come for her; and Liz, a social-climbing young model who can speak French but can't sing the blues. Vera, a haughty and heavily intoxicated woman scorned, sheds some ugly light on her friends' lives--and her own--leaving in her wake a sadder but more realistic Ramona and Preston to pick up the pieces. ("It's Sunday tomorrow," as Edward Albee wrote in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? "All day.")
In Slowdance, playwright Jahi adopts a darker, almost melodramatic style--Dashiell Hammett crossed with Eugene O'Neill--to tell a tale of moral disorientation and betrayal. The protagonist, Albert Williams, recounts the story of Georgia, a woman who wanted more from life than marriage, left to find it, and got more than she bargained for; Georgia's husband, Winston Blackman, in turn is shocked to find out during a drunken bull session that all of his buddies have betrayed him with his straying wife. To indicate that Georgia is a prisoner of the way men see her, she is played by four different actresses.
It would be easy to take these plays as examples of a "new morality" in a time of herpes, AIDS, and post-sexual-revolution backlash. But Jahi is too subtle for that: he's concerned with how men and women hurt each other while trying to reach each other. Hypocrisy and confusion are the problems here, not promiscuity.
Jahi needs to prune each of these pieces by five to ten minutes: he tends to restate what's already been made clear and to pursue subsidiary themes (brotherly rivalry, the loss of talented young men to drugs) that are worthy of exploration but interrupt the dramatic flow of the plays.
But the evening strikes plenty of sparks, in the sharp dialogue and intensity of feeling Jahi has given his characters and in the performances of Ellis Foster and Adekola Adedapo, two actors with offbeat but powerful presences. Foster, a tall, gaunt man with a richly expressive voice, is haunting as the tortured Albert in Slowdance and quite funny, in a Vincent Price sort of way, as the campy and cynical Gerald in Sometime Soon. And Adedapo, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Agnes Moorehead, is electric as the vindictive Vera in Sometime Soon, and a winsome, girlish Georgia in Slowdance; she's also a superb jazz singer, as she demonstrates in a brief turn as a Rush Street chanteuse in the latter play. Fine work also comes from Jijinota Oyayemi and Lenora Brown, as the falling and rising beauties respectively in Sometime Soon, and from Darryl Reed in Slowdance as a man reliving his boyhood shyness.
This production is apparently being forced to close by ETA's crowded schedule (next up is a historical drama about Frederick Douglass), but it deserves an extended lease on life.