Opened Feb. 24, 2007, Magic Theatre
Magic’s Hot House ’07 showing signs of `Rust’
Two stars Scattershot
When last we checked in with the Magic Theatre’s Hot House ’07 festival of new plays, we were immersed into a world of sexual awakening and S&M in Pleasure & Pain, the first of a trio of world-premiere plays.
With the second play, Kirsten Greenidge’s Rust, we’re taken into what can best be described as a theatrical collage that wants us to pay special attention to race. Specifically, Greendige is dealing with the repercussions of slavery and how that despicable period in our history – with its complex history and psychological fallout — affects being black in America today.
At least that’s what I think it’s about. To be honest, I’m not exactly clear.
One thing I do know is that Greenidge’s interest in the artifacts of slavery and institutional racism – most notably images of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and the Gold Dust Twins – has been more effective addressed onstage by the likes of Suzan-Lori Parks in The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World and in Marcia Leslie’s The Trial of One Short Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae.
There are components to Greenidge’s collage that spark interest, but the whole two-hour piece feels fragmented and haphazard in a way that might work for a one-dimensional collage, but on a stage, we need more coherence.
Delving into the realm of magic realism, Greenidge and director Raelle Myrick-Hodges fill their cramped stage with too many stories and an uneasy mix of fantasy and reality.
Almost by default, the central story involves a professional football player, Randall “The Mighty Miff’’ Mifflin (Mikaal Sulaiman), who’s in the midst of a nervous breakdown. After suffering an especially bad tackle, Randall’s hold on reality loosened, and now he won’t leave his house.
His psychosis is apparently not confined to his head. He and his wife (a screechy April Matthis) keep getting phone calls from some version of “The Twilight Zone’’ that allows Aunt Jemima (a masked Cathleen Riddley) to contact the real world.
There’s also a brother and sister (Lance Gardner and Matthis again) selling their recently deceased mother’s country home, and while they’re visiting the house, Mary-Mary-Anne (Nicole C. Julien) – an old “pickaninny’’ image from advertising images and “Our Gang’’ shorts — bursts out of the wall.
Randall the football player’s obsession with Aunt Jemima-type collectibles (he’s just paid $605 for an Aunt Jemima cookie jar) leads him to a dealer of such artifacts named Gin George (the always sturdy L. Peter Callender), and that’s where his path crosses that of the brother-sister pair.
The way it all comes together feels forced and undramatic. The best scenes are the most realistic ones — between Randall and his fellow player and best friend, Chunk-Chunk (Donald Lett) — and the most outrageous ones — involving two helmet-haired sportscasters (Eric Fraisher-Hayes and Gardner) commenting on Randall’s state of mind.
What’s real and what isn’t, what matters and what doesn’t collide on Matt McAddon’s set – inspired by the silhouette artwork of Kara Walker – which aims to be a multi-million-dollar NFL player’s home, a creaky old Southern mansion, the spirit realm and a store full of merchandise relating to Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and the like.
That’s a lot to accomplish in a small space, and like Greenidge’s play, there’s too much, and it all shoots off in too many directions. By the end, when Randall’s mother (an emotionally rich Riddley again) emerges as sort of the Wizard of Oz, “man behind the curtain’’ figure in this story, any emotional or cultural impact has been lost in the jumble of over-crowded ideas and images.
Clearly Greenidge has something important to say about the African-American experience, and at its best, Rust is a vibrant exploration of living history. Some editing of the text and more incisive direction would help bring the depth of that history more to the fore.
For information about Rust, visit www.magictheatre.org.