Sunday, April 13, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Missing Minstrel

The unvarnished truth (and I am truly sorry to say it) is that THE UNBLEACHED AMERICAN (@ Stoneham Theatre thru April 27th) isn’t yet a fully formed script. Playwright Michael Aman sets out to tell the compelling story of Ernest Hogan, one of America’s leading African-American entertainers in the late 1800s and the first Black man to star in a Broadway show.…but we don’t learn anything of substance about him except that he’s dying of tuberculosis.

If Aman had included a flashback or a memory scene, we could witness Hogan in his prime. As it’s written now, we have to take it on faith that he had the charisma to sell out a Broadway house “for forty weeks.” We only meet the man at the end of his life and he’s not divulging much. Hogan’s historical career is the stuff of legend. Katy Monthei’s evocative set of framed vaudeville performers hints at the wealth of material at Aman’s fingertips. How it all got left out of the script is a mystery to me.

To make matters worse, director Weylin Symes’ production is almost lifeless, with zero chemistry between Hogan and the Irish nurse/maid who’s been hired to look after him. Johnny Lee Davenport appears awfully robust (with hardly a cough or a wheeze) for a man who can’t breathe and hasn’t been eating. Even more puzzling is Laura Latrielle as the nurse. She displays so little affect that we might wrongly assume she’s the consumptive.

In addition, the play has an unfortunate false ending, when Hogan and the nurse perform a comic bit from a minstrel show and take a prolonged bow facing the audience, bent over as if it’s their actual curtain call. Almost everyone applauded at my performance, thinking this was the end of the show. Now I know fully well that developmental scripts usually have bugs to be worked out in successive productions but this iteration just doesn’t do the man any justice at all.