Friday, September 29, 2006

Two Stories for the Price of One

Tonight's play, "The African Company Presents Richard III," had a killer premise, a flawless production, and an unfortunately weak script. This sort of thing can be frustrating for me, but it's still quite worth seeing. And the story- about a company of free blacks mounting a production of "Richard III" in New York, 1821- is based on fascinating historical events.

The first act was bogged down by blunt exposition and a tacked-on love plot. (There was also a bit too much of mustache twirling theatre producer/McOppressor Stephen Price.) But the second act hit the meat of the story- these nominally free black performers trying to define themselves, keep their dignity, and avoid epic-scale freak-outs in front of an inescapable white audience. There was this gorgeous moment where, as Price plotted with the town constable to shut down the production, the five company members dressed themselves and assumed their roles. (Admirable clever costume work, by the way. A single piece transformed each 19th century domestic's outfit into the clothes of Shakespearean nobility.)

Anyway, just before the play-within-a-play began, one of the characters speechified on the doubleness of their enterprise- the many audience members who were coming not just to see the show, but to see the show fail, or devolve into riots and arrests. "Now," he said, "The African Company present two stories at the same time!" Luckily, theatre just isn't that dangerous any more, but for those scenes, Caryle and Congo Square revived a moment when it was, and damned if it didn't blow my mind.


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