Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review: The Repast

"The Repast" at the Adrienne is part of the Philly Urban Theatre Festival, running through Oct. 9. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews and reports.

Review: The Repast

By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Mama Turner has died, and she hasn’t been tucked away for more than a couple hours before the fighting between her two grown daughters begins. Her son tries to be the buffer, but old wounds still itch and burn, and aged Papa is too senile to understand what’s going on.

What’s going on is gentrification in the African-American neighborhood where the Turners built a family, raised their kids, watch their grandchildren — and then their great-granddaughter — grow. Some of the later generations also were raised in the house, the last house standing on a block that developers need.

What’s also going on beyond the plot of the sweet new play The Repast is the second Philly Urban Theatre Festival, brainchild of theater artist Kash Goins, at the Adrienne Theatre through Oct. 9. Goins, a Philadelphian, ran a similar festival in New York, and produces plays year-round that deal with the American black experience and minority communities in general. He seeks new work for the festival, whose productions range from one-nighters to week-long runs.

The Repast, by young playwright Bryana Michelle, a West Philadelphia native, runs through Sunday. Other festival entries include Kareem Rogers’ Fair Son, about a former civil rights activist who distances himself from black culture, set in Philadelphia; Davon Williams’ The Boy Who Sees, about a mother and her blind son; and the rarely staged The Slave, by poet/playwright Amiri Baraka, in production by Iron Age Theatre.

It begins a run in the festival, then moves to Norristown’s Centre Theater, the company’s home site.
Also on the festival 13-show roster are Donja R. Love’s How to Kill a Child and a Demon, about a family’s struggles in the aftermath of a crime, and a play by Goins — a one-act called “Tonight?,” billed as a psychological thriller, in which he will perform.


The festival began Monday with a one-nighter called Lion (El Leon), a comedy in Spanish and English with puppetry and music, by Chris Davis. The Repast is its first extensive run, a facile family play with a cast of 14, all of them on the mark. I was impressed by Michelle’s smooth scripting, which gives the many characters personalities so distinct we can’t possible confuse them even when they’re all onstage at once. Standouts are Dionne Stone and Karen Waller-Martin as the squabbling daughters and Brett Roman Williams, a grandson of the deceased woman.

The cast delivers the natural conversation of a real family dealing with life’s ins and outs, with an aged parent (Damien Wallace) as the old man providing some comic relief. The only overdrawn character is a buffoonish real estate developer (Gary Lime).
Kamal Rashad’s staging moves things nicely, but t

he lengthy scene changes disrupt the production’s rhythm, making it seem longer than its two-hour-plus running time. And the uncredited lighting design directs one stage light into the eyes of the audience to the right of the Adrienne’s mainstage theater. That’s where I sat, thinking I was about to get the third degree any minute.

The show is preceded by a 10-minute scene from another of Michelle’s plays — a terrible idea given the length of the evening and the play we came for, which makes the snippet seem an inferior work. It’s unfair to Michelle to have an out-of-context full scene float into the theater as a curtain raiser.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

For shows, times and ticket prices for the Philly Urban Theatre Festival, www.putf.org.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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