Spunk | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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Spunk, Congo Square Theatre Company, at the Storefront Theater. As adapted by George C. Wolfe from three Zora Neale Hurston short stories, "Spunk" is an agreeable evening of ensemble storytelling enlivened by the blues accompaniment of Guitar Man (Ron Reid) and the vocal accents of Blues Speak Woman (a scrumptious Aimee K. Bryant), whose singing is both low-down and softly feminine.

Before she was a novelist, Hurston was a folklorist and anthropologist. Set in segregated prewar communities--from the Everglades to Harlem--her work uses traditional African-American folkloric formats to present women who prevail against the sinister machinations of men. The native sons of the Harlem Renaissance never warmed to Hurston's work. But Alice Walker, whose own writing exhibits Hurston's influence, revived interest in her in the 1970s as a feminist hero.

Although one of Hurston's early short stories was entitled "Spunk," it's not among the three one-acts here. Sweat (1926) is a horror story of sorts about a venomous husband who reaps what he sows, Story in Harlem Slang (1942) derives its humor from the narrators' running anthropological commentary on the antics of two zoot-suited hucksters, and The Gilded Six-Pence (1933) is a domestic melodrama in which a slick outsider threatens a poor but happy home. Given Wolfe's signature style, one might expect a juke-jointed jump back into the Jazz Age. But like Hurston's original works, "Spunk" is a lolling afternoon of African-American folklore.

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