We all know, thanks to the movies, that African-American men like to talk smack in the barbershop. But who knew such verbal jousting was happening in the back room of florist shops? Stems are being sliced, not hair, in Cut Flowers by Gavin Lawrence, now at Karamu House, but this well-intentioned and frequently well-written script also features a bounty of missteps and wrong directions. And it is unfortunate that director Terrence Spivey chooses to amp up the melodrama whenever he can. Still, there is an undeniable spirit to these proceedings that rescue it from disaster. And a few performances shine brightly, making the production a mixed bag of treats and disappointments. Six black men are working in the cut flowers department of a florist shop owned by a white family. As they snip and organize their blooms, we learn about the back stories of each worker. Supervisor Kyle is continually yelling and bemoaning his fate, which becomes tiresome. But the mood is saved by some other workers—primarily the loose and constantly joking Ronnie, played with style by Prophet Seay. The playwright's tendency to lecture, especially through the voice of Kyle, takes the edge off of his more successful characterizations. Lawrence tries to amplify the central metaphor—you have to cut flowers to help them live longer—but the cutting of these people never seems equally beneficial. Spivey helps his cast develop some strong characters, and with a stronger script and less melodramatic overstatement (be quiet Kyle), the downbeat ending would work like a charm.
Through Nov. 17, 2355 East 89th St.,
Black Cat Lost
We've all experienced that weird feeling when our car zips over a small rise in the road and our stomach floats and then starts to fall. It's kinda fun, if it lasts for a second or two. But when we experience the death of someone close, that feeling of gut-fall and disconnectedness lasts for hours, days, months. Years. And that's not much fun at all. In the fast-moving, fragmented and challenging play Black Cat Lost by Erin Courtney, now being produced by the Theater Ninjas, that feeling is expressed in a multitude of overlapping and intersecting moments. Structured around Zen death poems (written by audience members as they enter, or provided by the cast), the play both obsesses and frolics around all the ways we try to engage, and mostly avoid, such monumental loss. A Zen death poem is usually short, three lines but not a haiku. Such as: "Forever.../I pass as all things do/Dew on the grass." It tries to engage the mind just before death. An event that, you know, could happen at any time for any of us. There are telling thoughts in Courtney's piece. In one vignette, a woman relates how she visited her young son's elementary school class and observed him, through a window. struggling with his nap-time blanket. She notes, "Is this how death feels? To see the complexities and not be able to act?" The take-away from this non-linear presentation directed by Jeremy Paul, which includes a second short piece on the same topic, is a window into how we all experience life and loss. Remembering little, understanding less, but still willing to fight the good fight.
Through Nov. 9, various locations.