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a Comedy/Drama
by Avery Sharpe

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : West End Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5324

SHOWING : August 03, 2018 - August 26, 2018



"Woke" follows two friends from different backgrounds who are trying to navigate the already rocky transition from high school to college. When a calamitous event captures national attention, they are forced to wrestle with their different understandings of social awareness. Through family, romance, and their own friendship, they painstakingly and comically explore what it truly means to be woke.

Director Ellen McQueen
Production Manager/TD Elisabeth Cooper
Frank Fred Galyean
Natasha Karina Simmons
Martha Kathleen Wattis
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Hip, Hep, Hooray
by playgoer
Thursday, August 23, 2018
Avery Sharpe’s "Woke" is a sharp, insightful play with incisive commentary about racial reactions to police shootings of blacks, along with romance, sentimentality, and a large measure of laughter. Essential Theatre’s production gets it just about all right, under the brilliant direction of Ellen McQueen.

Josh Oberlander-Denny’s set shows us a tasteful, lived-in basement rec room with a door to the garage up right, stairs to the main level up left, and a closet down left. The main portion of the room has a big leather sofa and recliner around an Oriental rug. There’s a dartboard stage right, which gets removed when that portion of the stage morphs into a dining room, complete with descending chandelier and drapery over the stage right door.

Courtney Loner’s props feature family and sports memorabilia, in addition to the food used in the dining room scene. The props are fine and fill up the walls nicely, but there were a couple of issues at the performance I attended. Just as the show was beginning, an Alfred E. Newman figure fell off a side table, and in the middle of the second act a large family collage fell from the upstage wall. The cast didn’t miss a beat.

The first scene (and also the last) show friends Adrian (Derrick Robertson) and Jesse (Paul Danner) having a rap smackdown. Jesse is white and Adrian is black. Adrian is definitely the better rapper, but the conception of the characters is that Adrian acts pretty white and that Jesse is definitely attracted to blacks. The smackdown stops when Jesse’s mother (Kathleen Wattis Kettrey) arrives home. His father (Fred Galyean) eventually arrives too, at an inopportune time when the boys have invited over two girls -- Tanisha (DeShon Green), whom Jesse is romancing, and Natasha (Karina Simmons), whom Adrian recently took to senior prom.

We follow the story of these people through graduation, the summer, and then to Christmas break, when the friends come home from their various colleges (Dartmouth for Jesse, NYU for Tanisha, Morehouse for Adrian, and Spelman for Tanisha). It’s all very teen-oriented and light at the start, showing interactions with a totally unhip Mom and a winkingly supportive Dad. When discussion eventually rolls around to Philando Castile, we see racial divides based on skin color, and the play drops into serious drama for the dining room scene.

The rifts caused by the discussion ripple through the rest of the play, with a little extra drama when gunshots are heard on a phone call. The resolution of the play paints an optimistic picture, with Jesse well on his way to becoming as "woke" as Adrian. All in all, this is a polished and satisfying play, one that can spark a lot of after-show conversation.

Alexia Mooney’s costumes show a nice sense of style, with changes to set each new scene. Harley Gould’s lighting design illuminates each scene deftly, and Kacie Willis’ sound design keeps a hip-hop/rap flavor going through scene changes.

Acting is excellent across the board. I was particularly impressed by the facial expressions of Karina Simmons and Fred Galyean. The only moment that didn’t ring true was when mother Martha offered to go "make" brownies from scratch and then returned with them in the time it would take to cut them. This may have been a line bobble ("make" instead of "get"), since Ms. Kettrey seemed to have a few line slip-ups at the performance I attended.

A strong script helps. Strong acting helps. But when a production is as good as "Woke" is, much of the credit needs to go to the director. Ellen McQueen has put together a show that brings out the best of script and cast. The positive hype about "Woke" is well-deserved. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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