Play: My Secret Language of Wishes
Group: St. Louis Black Repertory Company
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: Thursdays through Sundays through April 19
Tickets: From $27 to $40; contact 314-534-3810 or www.theblackrep.org
Story: Jo is an African-American attorney practicing in New York City, working to build her business through referrals and networking as well as prominent advertising on the city’s busses. It’s the latter form of communication that attracts the attention of Dakota, a young white woman who approaches Jo with an unusual request: She wants to adopt Rose, a disabled, 17-year-old black orphan just seven years her junior and a resident at the hospital where Dakota works.
Complicating the request is the fact that Brenda, a wealthy and powerful black businesswoman, also wants to adopt Rose for reasons unclear. While Jo ponders how to handle this situation, she also struggles with the growing dissatisfaction of her live-in lover, Cecilia, and the increasing disenchantment of her secretary, Sylvia.
Highlights: Cori Thomas has been described as one of New York City’s most promising playwrights, and to date has been an award winner and nominee for several prizes for works such as When January Feels Like Summer and our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
This particular play, a two-act drama, previously has been performed in Chicago and Louisville. The Black Rep production features a set design by Regina Garcia that is dominated by an impressive billboard touting the Museum of Modern Art, ostensibly setting Jo’s law office beneath the leviathan structure, while a pair of bedrooms for Brenda on one side and Jo and Cecilia on the other bracket Jo’s office and waiting room.
Other Info: Whatever talents Thomas possesses to engender awards and accolades seem sorely lacking in this turgid, hackneyed and interminable script. Subtlety is totally foreign to the story, which telegraphs crucial plot points almost laughably and staggers like a punch-drunk boxer throughout. Ron Himes’ direction appears uninspired and meandering, perhaps because this ‘chick flick’ for the stage may have been inserted into the Black Rep’s schedule merely to fit its “Year of the Woman” theme.
With such a poor script and lackluster production it’s difficult to discern any standout acting performances, although work by all of the actresses is earnest and well-meaning. Vanika Spencer brings innocence and charm to the curious part of Rose, and Alex Miller has moments of achievement as the foul-mouthed, streetwise Dakota.
Cathy Simpson is saddled with the ridiculous caricature of Brenda, a world removed from her excellent portrayal as a New Orleans street artist in last month’s A Song for Coretta, while Kathi A. Bentley seems consistently uncomfortable as the lawyer trying awkwardly to bring happy endings to all around her. Thyais Walsh appears too overwrought as the frustrated lover in scenes that drag on forever, while Christina L. Rios is left on stage to idly fill time as the secretary fighting a losing battle with phone etiquette.
Fontella Boone’s costumes favor high heels, even when Cecilia is making dinner, and also focus on the berets that are sprinkled liberally through Rose’s hair and the garish garb worn by Dakota. Jim Burwinkel’s lighting is perfunctory, while the sound design by Ashley Turner is too often cloying, maudlin and manipulative.
Searching for promising new plays always includes the danger of uncovering the bad with the good. This disappointing presentation clearly falls into the former category.
Rating: A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.