Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford
Lynn Nottage has written a gem of a play, a worthy choice for the Stamford Theatre Works’ celebration of Black History Month. It is a turn-of-the-century tale of a black seamstress—her loves, dreams and deep disappointments.
Nottage is remarkably skillful at creating flesh-and-blood characters. Her villains are more foolish than evil, her heroines more misguided than wise. These many-faceted characters—black and white—are so vivid that they draw the viewer into the tale relentlessly.
The 1905 story deals with the 35-year-old Esther who succumbs--by way of the mails—to a man from Barbados, a Panama Canal laborer. They marry with little direct knowledge of each other—and thus begins their marriage. Esther’s world also includes her landlady, her clients (a prostitute and a society matron) and the Orthodox Jew who provides her fabrics. Each is an in-depth, sensitive character study.
Unfortunately, this particular STW production is not equal to its material. Director Patricia R. Floyd has chosen to handle the many short scenes by constantly changing props and sets. She uses a strobe light effect during these scene changes to attempt a turn-of-the-century ambience. One is meant to be reminded of the early films, or the stereopticon which preceded them. But this gimmick is more likely to bring on a headache for the theatergoer—or, worse yet, a seizure—than fond recollections of the past. Simply moving each scene to a different part of the stage might have been a speedier and less cumbersome—and less dangerous—way to meet the challenge.
Yet the choice of performers is impressive. Heather Alicia Simms as the doomed Esther gives a beautiful, sensitive performance. By her very stance or facial expression, she says volumes. Leopold Lowe is also appealing as her husband George, though best and most appealing in his earlier scenes. Later, he has difficulty with his West Indian accent, which comes and goes like the ebb of the tides. Benja K is often hilarious as the earthy prostitute, offering a much-needed comic touch to the somber tale, and Erin Moon is a touching poor-little-rich-woman. Lynne Matthew, as Esther’s landlady, tends to play her role over the top, with a one-note delivery, but ultimately settles into the role. Most affecting of all is Jason Schuchman as the Orthodox Jewish merchant, and his scenes with Simms are beautifully understated and powerful.
Whatever the drawbacks of the production, however, this is an opportunity to see a memorable Lynn Nottage drama.
-- Irene Backalenick
Februar y 12, 2007