Levee James

Southern farmers, racism, murder, and sex, with a boost from good acting

The strongest part of S.M. Shepard-Massat's new play is the unwholesome mixture of ingredients that Zora Neale Hurston and William Faulkner used to such strong effect: Southern farmers, racism, murder, and sex. Shepard-Massat has written an elemental drama about an African-American widower feeling pressure to leave his farm in the spring of 1923. Wesley Slaton (Steven Anthony Jones) revives a dormant romance with his sister-in-law, Lily Grace Hoterfield (Rosalyn Coleman), after Lily returns to the country from Atlanta. Lily is the sister of Wesley's now-dead wife, and since the family relationships here are all a bit complicated, we spend most of Act 1 hearing them spelled out, which is boring. In Act 2, though, a lazy neighbor named Fitzhugh (Gregory Wallace) gets into trouble with a local redneck, and Wesley has to avenge him. The story never reaches the fever pitch we've learned to expect from stories by Hurston and Faulkner, but Shepard-Massat's script gets a boost from the cast. Jones and Coleman have a palpable sexual chemistry; she is self-assured as Lily, and he is powerful as a frustrated, blustery farmer. And Wallace is perfectly cast as the comical dandy. He sports brown plaid, patent leather, and a patch to hide his stray left eye. "Now they don't call me 'Cockeye Fitzhugh,'" he laments. "They call me 'Cockeye Fitzhugh with an eye patch.'" The performances Israel Hicks coaxes from his fine actors are worth the money, even if the play itself leaves a light impression.

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