"Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous" by Pearl Cleage at the Alliance, March 20, 2019 - April 14, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: Talky, Tame, and Gloriously Glamorous
Pearl Cleage’s "Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous" is a curiously undramatic play. The first part is all exposition, rehashing the events of years past among people who were all present during the events and shamelessly foreshadowing the future accommodations of our two "heroines" (actress Anna Campbell and her enabler Betty Samson). Then we transition into narration of offstage events, principally one captured in a video we barely get a soundbite of. So the play is all talk.
Director Susan V. Booth has encouraged a broadly theatrical and artificial performance from Terry Burrell as Anna. Maybe her grand gestures play to the last row of the balcony, but they ring totally false from closer seats. Marva Hicks, as Betty, also starts out in the same near-mugging style, but tempers her performance to come across as much more believable. Je Nie Fleming, as producer Kate Hughes, has big reactions that read well without being artificial in the least. Best of all is Ericka Ratcliff as "Pete" Watson, a stripper with goals. Oddly enough for a 70-year-old playwright, only the words coming from the mouth of this 20-something character have the ring of authenticity.
The production values are stunning at the Alliance. Collette Pollard’s set design shows us an elegant hotel room (bedrooms stage right, dining area and coffee bar stage left, sitting area down center right, and entryway up center right), with ceiling beams above and a cyclorama of scudding clouds. Michelle Habeck’s lighting design and Clay Benning’s sound design nicely indicate the thunderstorms raging outside. The icing on the cake is the costume design by Kara Harmon, who dresses all four females with stylish over-statement. The only problem in the design is that an entryway column, the dining room table, and an L-shaped sofa are all angled toward audience left, obstructing views at times for patrons seated on the far side of audience right.
Ms. Cleage’s script depends on other writers for much of its power. The reputation of August Wilson is front and center, since Anna’s "Naked Wilson" performance of male monologues drove her and Betty to Amsterdam, and a revival of it is what has drawn them back to Atlanta. The legacy of Mr. Wilson forms the centerpiece of the play. Langston Hughes’ "When Sue [Susanna] Wears Red" is recited in full, and Stephen Foster’s "Oh! Susanna" is sung after curtain call (with a melody far removed from Foster’s original). The play is as much a derivative tribute as an original work.
The relationship between Anna and Betty forms a glaring hole at the center of the play. We know these women have been together for decades, but we don’t know why. Anna is the diva and Betty is the hanger-on in one interpretation; in another, they are lovers whose passion has dried up over the years. Their relationship is unexplored in the production, which seems to be a failing both on the part of Ms. Cleage and of Ms. Booth. "Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous" is an intriguing consideration of August Wilson and feminism, but it fails as drama.