Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Review Posted: Hope VI

I have a new review up on Centerstage--Hope VI, the world premiere by Nambi E. Kelley at Chicago Dramatists. There were some great ideas here, but the show just didn't work. It was depressing really, but I still want to check out her next play. The review can be read here and the text is below.

"Hope VI" has a premise with real potential. The Robert Taylor Homes, public housing on the South Side of Chicago, are being demolished. A little girl named Hope, living with her family in a tiny motel room while awaiting permanent housing, tries to escape a hellish home life by fantasizing about her idol, Whoopi Goldberg.

Unfortunately, playwright Nambi E. Kelley and director Ilesa Duncan have failed to capitalize on the fascinating ideas at the center of the play. The production currently onstage at Chicago Dramatists plays as half-made in every way. Kelley's script feels half-written and unshaped. The domestic tragedy is uninvolving, as the characters don't quite add up to convincing wholes, the social background is never convincingly connected to the family's story, and the fantasy sequences, though showing flashes of excitement, are never quite creative enough to bring the production to life.

Duncan and her cast have not managed to create successful drama where the script could not. If anything, the production compounds the script's problems. Scenes rarely build to dramatic peaks—the intended high points come off as a bunch of shouting, without much emotional impact. The actors seem to still be finding their characters, and in some cases are even shaky on their lines.

What makes this production so unfortunate are the moments that show what could have been, such as when Najwa Brown and Sandra Watson, as Hope and her imaginary Whoopi, try to escape the world, and Du Shon Monique Brown, as Hope's abusive mother, gives distressing insight into her pain. The phrases and exchanges that capture real poetry onstage make the surrounding mess even sadder.

There may be a worthwhile play in here. Hopefully this production will succeed as a learning experience for Kelley—because it's decidedly lacking as a theatrical experience for the audience.

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