Review: Centre student production flounders on multiple levels

November 06, 2003|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

About 2 1/2 hours into DramaCentre's world premiere performance of "The Beloved Community," I found myself having "Rushmore" moments. I was envisioning Max Fischer - that's the main kid, for all of you who aren't Wes Anderson fans - writing and producing one of his bizarre little films in all of its erratic glory.

That is to say, up to a certain point, "The Beloved Community" was mildly interesting. Then it took a final turn for the bizarre that, for me, sealed its fate.

That wasn't to say that I hadn't enjoyed some aspects of the show. After a rather slow start, the actors found their groove, and I was surprised to find it already was 9:30 p.m. at intermission. "Very promising," I thought. "Tight pacing."

I thought there were some inspired segments, a few clever metaphors that connected the 1960s to the present. Most of the performances were fair- to good-quality; a few were great. Colin McCann as Bennett/Carl and Jan Sheffield as Ann/Ya Ya were jaw-droppingly excellent. But, finally, I had a single, faceted conclusion: "Too much and too little," I thought.


Too much material, too much time devoted to said too much material, too much fragmentation, too little emotion and too little focus.

On its most basic level, "The Beloved Community" is about three 1960s Civil Rights Movement activists returning to a college campus for a symposium about that time in their lives. We find Ann on her lawn chair, relaxing, until weeds start "popping up" - or getting thrown by other actors around her - and she is forced to call her gardener, Pablo, for help. More than one person had told me that Ann represents the "earth mother" persona, so I was puzzled as to why an earth mother couldn't or wouldn't touch a weed. Ah, but no doubt the weeds represented what her life had become. Anyhow, she agrees to participate in the symposium.

Then we see Monique (Terri L. Carter), with the voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the background. Suddenly, a bunch of clocks begin donging, ala Pink Floyd - clever sound, again - until she agrees to participate in the symposium. Presumably, the donging clocks represent what Monique's life had become - but I could be wrong.

Finally, we meet Richard (John "Buck" Rogers), a neo-conservative whose walls move in on him before he agrees to attend the symposium.

At the college, the large student body boils down to five principals: Kwame, Bennett, Carla, Cassandra and Dylan (Tony Spalding Jr., McCann, Alina Klimkina, Vicki Cann and Chad Dike). All these fresh student faces onstage were as delightful as this occurrence was rare; I've rather become accustomed to seeing much of the same actors for four years, until they graduate. All the actors play multiple roles. The students play the activists as young people, and the older actors play other miscellaneous roles. Of course, there are echoes of their main characters in the other parts they play. I generally liked that aspect of "The Beloved Community," finding myself confused about which time frame we were in only on one or two occasions.

Describing everything "The Beloved Community" wants to be about is difficult. The characters explore issues of race, sexuality and drugs and make references to other important issues of the 1960s, such as the environment, politics, war and the people important to the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted a lot, and his voice booms out regularly. Talk about your crash courses in the 1960s.

My potential obtusity aside, I never quite gathered what exactly this play wanted to tell me, though. I could write an entire essay that would take up a good full page of today's newspaper on what I think the play wanted me to consider, or believe. But I don't have that kind of space. I prefer a sharper focus, or a more concise point. And the lack of passion among the actors, a tepid ennui that generally permeated their actions and interactions, left me not really caring about what the play wanted. I wanted some genuine ardor - I rarely saw that. Either playwright Herman Daniel Farrell III didn't write in a great deal of passion, or director Anthony Haigh didn't direct the cast to be passionate about the subject matter.

I did pull some interesting points out of the play, based on memorable quotes from the actors: Ann's reference to a "circle of trust"; Bennett's allusion to the "multi-cultural, vulcanized mess, courtesy of the '60s"; Richard's "The rise of the Black Power Movement led to the downfall of the Civil Rights Movement"; Monique's reference to Sept. 11, 2001, to evoke the emotional impact of the murders of Civil Rights workers in the '60s, and her point that "the Promised Land never existed." The one other frequently used quote is Kwame's, "Everything is everything." I need to think about that one a while longer.

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