|Shari Gardner, Desean Kevin Terry, and Jelani Blunt|
Photo by John Perrin Flynn
This is only the second play that I've reviewed at The Rogue Machine Theatre. After seeing their production of Still Life which impressed me on several levels, I had to come back. The choice of Lorraine Hansberry's Les Blancs provides acting and direction and excellence in production values: a treatise on colonialism in a fictional African country. The story turns on stereotypical archetypes that, sadly, reflect the actual business of white dominance in black nations even to this day. Gregg T. Daniel's precise direction and Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's imaginative scenic design are spot on. The opening introduction of the cast of characters reminded me of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's The Neighbors, another treatise on race.
Hansberry has created a complicated situation where well meaning white folks clash with military whites who have come to dominate the native culture and being dominated is something that most folks are uncomfortable with. The continuing struggle for freedom that permeates the world, is reflected in this piece with skill. The ethical and moral stance of the ruling race, no matter the well meaning efforts of thoughtful others, seem always to result in conflict that serves only to thin the herd of the minority.
Bill Brochtrup's Sergeant Major George Rice, our prime antagonist, is crisp and British. Writer Charlie Morris (Jason McBeth), Joel Swetow's hard drinking Dr. Willy DeKoven and the cool and beautiful Dr. Marta Gotterling (Fiona Hardingham) work beautifully. As Madame Neilsen, Anne Gee Byrd is most soulful as the wife of the missionary who established the mission and clinic years before.
Outstanding is percussionist Jelani Blunt, who sets the mood with pre-show doumbek and beads while the opening night audience filters into the theater. His underscore drives the piece throughout. Lithe and dangerous Shari Gardner dance interprets the conflicts and passion that move the story forward.
Strong performances by Desean Kevin Terry (Tshembe Matoseh), the conflicted and westernized returnee to his homeland; his brother, Abioseh (Matt Orduna) who has become a Catholic priest!; Eric (Aric Floyd) and Amir Abdullah as Peter reflect the deep chasm that our human culture insists on widening by force.
Written in the sixties the play is set in an ambiguous time period, the struggles of the 'under classes' that were themes in Hansberry's other plays give pause as hypocrisy blossoms despite the best efforts of some to do the right thing.
Finally, the supernumeraries in this piece are professional and totally dedicated, especially as the revolt expands with guns and spears into the audience. As I have been critical of children on stage in the past, the kids in this production are present and professional! Impressive.
This thoughtful and well mounted production deserves an audience. The polemic is transparent. Hansberry's characters hold few surprises, but the work is excellent.. excellent theatre.
LES BLANCS by Lorraine Hansberry
ROGUE MACHINE THEATRE
1089 N. Oxford Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Plays Saturdays and Mondays at 8PM
Sundays at 3PM
Closes July 3, 2017
Tickets and Information
855 585 5185