Thursday, May 2, 2019

"Jazz": ☼ ☼ ☼

Gee, such promise. Nambi E. Kelley's adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel, a cast including Margo Hall and C. Kelly Wright and a score by Marcus Shelby. What could go wrong?

On the plus side, C. Kelly Wright's portrayal of the conflicted Violet, whose husband has shot a young woman with whom he was having an affair, is award-show caliber. Hall is her usual seen-it-all-nothing-surprises-me self as both Alice Manfred and True Belle. And Paige Mayes's Parrot, whose every gesture demands our attention, gives us a rare and stunning stage presence.

The truth is, though, that until the actors took their bows and C. Kelly Wright bowed first, we had no idea the story was about her. At least the actors think it is. There are many side stories and unexplained threads that appear and then disappear, to say nothing of time travel and Morrison's expected magical realism that is hard enough to portray on a page let alone on a stage.

And the music -- gee whiz. An adaptation of a Toni Morrison novel set in Harlem in 1926 and entitled "Jazz?" And this is what they wanted from Marcus Shelby? We know and love this man's work. The show desperately needs a wake-up call and it may start here.

Our favorite moments were when Dane Troy, seen above in overalls, who said little but was always on stage, danced with Paige Mayes. In those moments the show seemed to be poised to explode onto a new plateau. Sadly, the segments were short and never returned.

Michael Gene Sullivan plays Joe Trace. Sullivan is an admirable comedian, one of our favorites for many years in the Bay Area. But perhaps due to Awoye Timpo's direction, his relationship with the doomed Dorcas makes little sense -- why, exactly, does the beautiful young girl fall for the somewhat portly. middle-aged soap salesman? -- and then is exacerbated when his wife takes him right back without a thought to the young girl Joe has murdered.

This is "Jazz"'s West Coast Premiere and is sure to be discussed and, hopefully, tightened. Right now there are good notes but they have yet to be assembled into a meaningful score.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants THREE STARS to "Jazz." We enjoyed the show while it was going on, but had looked forward to so much more. With a cast like this, and a performance like C. Kelly Wright's, somebody has to add some oomph. We suggest a phone call to Mr. Shelby.

Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through May 19

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