In the late 19th century, Ibsen's Nora famously slammed the door on her proverbial doll house, leaving behind husband, children and an intolerable situation. This generated a still-roiling tidal wave of feminist rebellion. More than a century later, in a sick retaliation to all this female empowerment, William A. Parker's pissed parole officer in Waitin' 2 End Hell slams another, quite contrary departing door in the face of his adulterous account executive wife.
Karamu's press kit clues us in that this play is a study of the consequences of black women gaining financial independence, which - what else? - leads inevitably to uppity attitudes, disintegrating families and, most frighteningly, the author's testosterone-fueled revenge fantasies of the ugly caliber depicted in this work.
If Ibsen gave us a tidal wave, Parker gives us stagnant bilge water. Waitin' commences with the 12th anniversary dinner party thrown for Diane and Dante Jones, a middle-class black couple. Following the husband's heartwarming toast to his wife ("You and my two beautiful children are my heart") comes a necklace and tickets for a Caribbean getaway. Diane, however, has been too busy making executive decisions to pick up any presents for Dante. Pounding on his word processor like a sledgehammer, Parker is thus convinced that she is obviously a bitch and he is her sucker.
To further stack the deck, Dante's best friend, Alvin, is a Stanley Kowalski manque who keeps his island-born wife in line through unrelenting male aggression, while Diane's good friend Angela compounds the biased set-up by being a perpetually-in-heat floozie. Before the play runs its interminable course, Diane's so-called "unhealthy" need for self-expression will unavoidably prompt her to flagrant infidelity with her boss on the living room settee and what seems to be an eternity of inarticulate Virginia Woolfish verbal boxing matches with her increasingly infantile husband.
For supposed comedy relief - although it's hard to tell - we have endless macho tirades about the withholding of marital sex. The whole crazy mess builds up to one of the more philosophically offensive climaxes in recent dramaturgy, when the husband's mere pulling of a gun causes the wife to see the error of her ways and completely recant her independence. The piece is written in the style of self-help group role-playing, and that's the way it's performed. Sad to say, director Terrence Spivey gives this mess the production it deserves.
The actors' eye-rolling indicating and hands-on-hip attitudinizing is worthy of the dreariest of amateur community-theater excesses. The evening's sole authenticity comes from the finite details of John Konopka's set and the exquisite patrician beauty of Saidah Mitchell's Diane. The non-lethal difficulty with Karamu's previous, most admirable production of Caroline or Change was that it was often inaudible. The unfortunate terminal problem with Waitin' is that you can hear every miserable word.
Waitin' 2 End Hell Through November 23 Karamu Theatre 2355 E. 89th St. 216.795.7077