Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Waitin' 2 End Hell": ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG baub

The pity of Willam a. Parker's "Waitin' 2 End Hell" is that he didn't end it at Intermission. This Northern California Premiere has an Act One that is so funny, so interesting and so full of set-up and promise that at intermission the audience is buzzing about what might happen next. Will Dante get it on with Shay? Is Alvin heading for a fall? And what about big Larry?

Dante Jones, played deliciously by Alex Morris, has been married to Diane (PJay Phillips) for twenty years. But she has roving eyes and a basic dissatisfaction with being married to her parole officer husband. Dante, on the other hand, is committed to keeping his family together. He is the black man who black women say no longer exists, a man who is loyal and thinks of his family first. But that's not enough for Diane. She is looking for Mark (Allen Hurtt), a fast-talking attorney who is the exact opposite of Dante. We see in Diane's eyes just how she is really feeling during the Anniversary Toast Dante offers her at the beginning of the play.

The show revolves around the dialogue between three men (Donte, Alvin (Michael Wayne Rice) and Larry (Michael J. Asberry). They talk about man's superior role in the world: "It's in the Bible!" thunders Larry. "Corinthians. 'Man is the head of the woman!'"

We also have three women (Diane, Shay (Natasha Noel) and Angela (Charisse Loriaux) reacting to these men. But the men have all the good lines, such as Larry's observation: "We're men. We fix shit. What we can't fix we destroy." The women are far less perfectly drawn, which becomes fatal in Act Two.

Each scene is punctuated with the perfect musical cue, such as James Brown's "This is a Man's World."

In Act Two, the author attempts to make us feel sorry for all three women. He does not succeed. Diane is acting like a fool supposedly because her father mistreated her mother and therefore she can't trust men. Shay secretly is in love with Dante and Angie's childhood was traumatic. But it's all talk. The biggest problem is that PJay Phillips as Diane does not give forth any emotion other than depression and it's not helped by overwrought dialog. She's hard to empathize with on any level. On Opening Night there were two occasions in Act Two when the audience burst out laughing at lines that were meant to expose deep angst.

This Lorraine Hansberry Theater production is being presented at the PG&E Conference Center downtown. "Waitin' 2 End Hell" has a three week run. If they iron out the female roles by the end of the run they will turn a good show-with-potential into an excellent one.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG baub
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Waitin' 2 End Hell' one star for Alex Morris's largeness of size and craft. This is one terrific actor. Michael Wayne Rice is also very good in the best friend role, as is Michael J. Asberry as the focus of male enlightenment (he has already been married twice, as he keeps reminding Dante). A star for them. Half a star goes out to David Hines's fabulous selection of sound cues (he did the same thing for Brian Copeland's 'Not a Genuine Black Man'). If any of the three women had standout roles, the play would rise to the Three Star Level.

The Bangle of Praise is for Allen Hurtt's Mark -- he's exactly who he says he is, and does not see Diane's attraction to him as anything but automatic. He is a bright light.

The bauble of despair -- the gun. And it misfires twice.
"Waitin' 2 End Hell"
PG&E Auditorium
77 Beale Street, San Francisco
Thu.-Sun. through March 1


blackgriot said...

It is my humble opinion that this review reflects the huge disconnect between the Black community and the resources that most papers and their critics bring to the theatre when examining our work. Though, you sat in the theatre and heard the response of the patrons to the production, you could not and never will be able to understand the sermon. On the issue of competence, your readers should compare your review to that of D.J. Bruckner of the NEW YORK TIMES, Mansfiled B. Frazier of COOLCLEVELAND, Yusef Abdus-Saalam of THE NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS. The laughter, the sighs, the moans, the tears... you hear them, yet, because you lack understanding about Black culture... the authentic images you saw, the dialogue you heard, you are unable synthesis and render a fair assessment of the work. The true critics left the theatre that night discussing the play, dialing their friends by cel phone to tell them, they must catch this show. Example, this email received by a female attendee on Sunday; “I liked the play so much that I am getting together a group of females to go to see it again next Sunday.”

DAK said...

DearBlackGriot: Thanks for the comment, it is a well thought out statement, and not something I didn't think about when writing. In my defense, I am not writing about the black experience, but about the play. The female characters are weakly drawn, in this one reviewer's opinion. That the play would resonate with people is not surprising -- I'm still talking about some of the dialog myself. I'm really happy to have your comment -- this is all a process, after all, for all of us.