Monday, November 14, 2005

Family Life - Karamu

Karamu stages County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones's play

Writing a good play is a difficult task. Directing a new play, especially for an inexperienced director, is a difficult task. Performing in a new play, with a novice director, especially when you are an amateur actor, is a difficult task. These conditions are all present in ‘THE FAMILY LINE’ now on stage at Karamu Theatre.

Peter Lawson Jones is best known locally as a Cuyahoga County Commissioner. He is also a Harvard College and Law School graduate and an aspiring playwright. His play, ‘THE FAMILY LINE’ has been produced at Harvard and Ohio Universities and received a staged-reading at the East Cleveland Community Theatre. It has an interesting premise. A star black male high school basketball star sees his way out of the ghetto by becoming a college phenom and then going on to play in the pro ranks. His hopes are dashed when he runs into a prejudiced college coach and allows this to send him into a tailspin of self-pity, which not only effect his own life, but that of his wife and those who befriend him.

Most plays go through a long period of adjustment in which a dramaturg, a writer’s workshop and numerous developmental productions help hone the script and insure that the dialogue is natural, the plot twists are well founded, and the concept holds up. The script of ‘THE FAMILY LINE,’ with all its strengths, is still a work-in-progress. Some of the dialogue is in written rather than oral style, some of the plot twists too obvious, and some of the needed emotional motivations for the actors are missing. The play needs some texturing, some humor, some variance of mood.

Director Desmond “Storm E” Jones indicates in the program that this is his directing debut at Karamu House. Undertaking to direct is a daunting task. To take on a new, untested play is even more difficult. He hits some of the notes right, but, the pacing is extremely slow and the interactions between characters are sometimes unreal. Some of the cast spoke lines, rather than creating meanings. Some of the staging was awkward, such as the scenes in the bar. The fake food did not help enhance the realism of the production. The fight scenes were unrealistic.

Sonia Bishop is one of this area’s better actresses. Her portrayal of Sheila, the basketball player Brad’s wife, was right on key. The character’s emotions were clear and her frustration obvious. Joseph Primes and Karyn Lewis, as Brad and Sheila’s life-long friends, also developed well-honed and realistic characters. They inter-played well with each other.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast struggled with creating real people. Most of the time it was obvious they were acting, not reacting to the lines’ concepts and each other. They often lacked believability. Director Jones needed to work more with the cast members to create reality, not just say memorized lines.

Talented Scenic designer Richard H. Morris, Jr. has constructed two realistic side-by-side sets. Unfortunately, they both looked too chic, too modern, too well furnished and appointed to be that of a financially struggling young couple and a seedy bar. He could have helped the director by placing the dining room table on a platform behind the couch, thus eliminating an awkward scene change.

Capsule Judgment Karamu should be commended for giving a voice to a new work. Though the quality was not soaring, there is a place in the theatre for giving a voice to new playwrights, directors and performers, and Karamu fulfilled that need with this production.