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Serial Black Face

a Drama
by Janine Nabers

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4875

SHOWING : April 02, 2016 - April 24, 2016



Atlanta, 1979. The Atlanta Child Murders grip the entire city. Single mother Vivian copes with the disappearance of her young son while working tirelessly to give a fresh start to her troubled teenage daughter. When a handsome stranger enters her life with promises of new love, she soon learns that nothing is as it seems. This award-winning play by one of America’s most promising young playwrights pulses to life with extraordinary grace and raw emotional power.

Director Freddie Ashley
Mickey/Jimmy/Police Officer Brian Hatch
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Heightened Unreality
by playgoer
Sunday, April 3, 2016
In "Serial Black Face," playwright Janine Nabers takes the situation of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981 and builds a somewhat sordid story around it. Her choices to heighten the reality of life in the projects go so far as to make situations and characters somewhat less than realistic. She starts with shockers – a woman auditioning unknowingly for a gentleman’s club, but so desperate for money she is willing to bare her middle-aged body in the audition; her school-age daughter displaying her naked body to fellow students for cash – and throws in pulse-pounding emotions with abandon. It just doesn’t feel real; it’s making points rather than showing a living, breathing family.

The actors are asked to combine so many contradictions into a single being that they can’t succeed in creating believable characters. Dréa Lewis (Gladys) and Kelli Winans (Damita) have the most limited stage time and thus succeed best. Gilbert Glenn Brown, as the less-than-forthcoming leading man, does a pretty good job of creating a man with hidden sleazy tendencies that become all too evident as the action proceeds. Brian Hatch’s casting as multiple characters, one supposedly high school-aged and others older, lessens the impact that could have been achieved with two separate actors. Tinashe Kajese-Bolden (Vivian) puts a lot of emotion into her role as the mother of a murdered child, but is constrained by the script that gives her the impossible task of embodying so many different traits. Imani Guy Duckette (as daughter Latoya) seems to put little energy into her portrayal, making her performance somewhat lifeless.

Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay have created a set that neatly squeezes the bedroom, kitchen, and living room of an apartment into a corner set configuration that also includes two levels of playing areas on the sides that suggest a number of additional locations. Their costume scheme seems unbalanced, though – the two main characters (Vivian and the Man with the Face) stay in the same costumes throughout, while everyone else bops in and out of costume after costume. The use of stage fog before the show starts is baffling, since it obscures the view of childhood objects (teddy bears, a tricycle, a swing) that float above the scene in a way that could be effective if it were the focal point of the pre-show light scheme.

Rebecca M.K. Makus’ lighting design does a nice job of delineating the various locations in which action takes place, and Joel Abbott’s sound design works well to set scenes. Kimberly Townsend’s props impressively bring the various locations to life, but the electronic cigarettes used frequently in the show are obviously sturdy tubes that produce realistic smoke, and are handled as such, rather than as the more fragile cigarettes of the time period.

Director Freddie Ashley has blocked the action for good sightlines throughout, aided to great extent by the corner stage configuration. The flow is remarkably good for a show in which extremely short scenes follow one another. There’s a lot of over-the-top situations packed into the show, making the rather pat resolution of the mother-daughter antagonism a bit of a let-down. "Serial Black Face" has some power in it, but it’s diluted with enough false notes to give the lie to the desperation of a mother unable to face any departures in her life following the disappearance of her son. It’s a play that doesn’t come fully to life on the stage. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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