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Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous

a Comedy/Drama
by Pearl Cleage

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5466

SHOWING : March 20, 2019 - April 14, 2019



A lifetime ago, in the mid-1970’s, actress Anna Campbell and director Betty Samson ignited a major theatrical controversy with a performance of scenes from August Wilson’s "Fences" that came to be known forever after as ‘Naked Wilson.’ To escape the critics, Anna and Betty accepted what they thought would be a temporary job in Amsterdam. Twenty-five years later, the women receive an invitation to return to the states where the infamous piece will open a women’s theatre festival that promises to be ‘angry, raucous, and shamelessly gorgeous.’ Uncertain of what kind of reception she will get after so many years in self-imposed exile, and unmoved by Betty’s reassurances, Anna’s insecurity only grows when she meets Pete Watson, the ambitious young performer who has been chosen to recreate the role but whose theatrical experience is so far limited to the adult entertainment industry. Searching for common ground, Anna and Pete must confront their ideas about themselves and about each other, as they search for a way to reconcile their two very different ways of looking at the world. This is a story for anyone who has ever tried to build a bridge between generations, hoping to offer a lifetime of advice to some unsuspecting young person (who probably hasn’t asked for it,) and discovered in the process that there is as much to learn as there is to teach. With humor and grace, Pearl Cleage finds a meeting place where both women can not only find each other, but make peace with a few lingering ghosts just in time for opening night.

Director Susan V. Booth
Anna Campbell Terry Burrell
Kate Hughes JeNie Fleming
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Talky, Tame, and Gloriously Glamorous
by playgoer
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
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.


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