Story: Life looks rosy for Dawud and Kara, even on Friday the 13th. The young couple is engaged, which has Kara busy preparing the details of their upcoming marriage. She loves Dawud and is proud of the fact that the recovering addict has been on the wagon for seven years, avoiding the constant temptations of alcohol and crack cocaine. So much so that Dawud insists they have no alcohol available for guests at their wedding reception.
Shortly after Kara leaves for work, Dawud steps out and then returns with a young street hustler he brings back for sex. Dawud insists that he isn’t gay but rather bi-sexual, which the stranger, ominously named Insidious, finds humorous. Dawud quickly regrets what he’s done, but then is unable to get the menacing young man out of his apartment. As he finds himself increasingly at the mercy of the stranger, who steals his keys, his wallet and even a game box, Dawud’s tension escalates. Fellow recovering addicts Chris and Tajuan pop by at various times and sense that something is wrong. When Kara returns, she confronts a number of unpleasant realities that seem only to grow increasingly worse.
Highlights: Buffalo-based playwright Ibn Shabazz won the 2011 Artvoice Artie Award for Best New Play for this 2010 adult drama that was his first full-length effort. Black Rep founder and producing director Ron Himes saw the presentation in Buffalo and added Insidious as the finale of The Black Rep’s 2012 season.
Other Info: A constant barrage of foul language peppers Shabazz’s script, giving the two-act work a sense of stripped-bare reality. The title character seems obsessed with testing positive for HIV and contracting the AIDS virus, and Shabazz slowly reveals crucial background details in Insidious’ life that propels him on his self-destructive and terrorizing path.
Still, the production directed by Himes often seems stilted and spasmodic in its development, as off-kilter as the troubled young men, both Insidious and Dawud, at its core. While performances by the cast are OK, none seems able to rise above the mostly mediocre script (the ending is a clever surprise) and the sputtering presentation. There are also a number of asides to the audience by characters that would better serve the script if they were integrated into dialogue rather than the dreary rap approach favored by the playwright.
Nic Few brings a sinister and hulking presence to the production as the mysterious and deadly Insidious, maintaining an uneasy reaction by the audience throughout the script’s two acts. His performance is based mostly on lurking movements and menacing reactions, but he effectively conveys the brooding and venal aspects of the title character.
Philip Dixon fills the bill as the vacillating and tortured Dawud, who finds the allure of forbidden pleasures too powerful even after seven years of resistance, or maybe less as the script eventually reveals. Jacqueline Thompson, Daniel Hodge and Ryan Cunningham contribute what they can in the smaller roles as Dawud’s devoted wife Kara, her gay friend and Dawud’s fellow recovering addict Tajuan and Dawud’s earnest pal Chris, another recovering addict, respectively. Hodge is often over the top in his portrayal, but likely keeping within the context of Shabazz’s description of the role.
Chris Pickart’s scenic design, filled with Robert van Dillen’s array of props, features a modest apartment that includes a living room at center stage and a kitchen at stage left. There’s also a bedroom discretely seen through a thick curtain at the rear of the performance area which is enhanced with some visually striking lighting by designer Mark Wilson.
Costumes by Sarita Fellows are highlighted by the cloaking of Insidious and the flamboyantly colorful attire for Tajuan, while DJ Super Nova’s raucous sound design fits the street style of the action occurring in the engaged couple’s living quarters.
Insidious is successful in depicting a dark and dangerous nether world in an urban setting. With its fitful development and uneven presentation, however, it’s more annoying than provocative.
Group: The Black Rep
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: Wednesdays through Sundays through June 24
Tickets: From $20 to $47.50; contact 534-3810, 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Stewart Goldstein