Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

brownsville song (b-side for tray)
Florida Studio Theatre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of The Originalist, Ideation, and Sarasolo 2017


Wesley T. Jones and Alice Gatling
Photo by Matthew Holler
Florida Studio Theatre presents brownsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee as its third production in the Winter Mainstage Series. This play is a perfect choice for FST; issues oriented, it lends itself to community forums to discuss the themes during the run. The theme is violence in inner city life, or anywhere, since my own hometown sees its share of poverty based violence. Alas, this play is not incisive on the subject at hand and offers little that is new, but it still makes audiences think about something that might very well be outside their normal living patterns.

brownsville song (b-side for tray) is problematic because the writing is uneven and the characters are more stereotypes than individuals. One powerful scene fades into cliches, thereby weakening the stronger parts. Also, the play takes place both in the past and present, and it needs to be clearer when shifting between them. This play is a decent one, but far from a masterpiece.

Unfortunately, the acting is almost as uneven as the play itself, with one of the leads totally miscast. Let's start with the best: Alice Gatling is giving another very strong performance, after several other outings with this company. She makes Grandmother Lena, who raised Tray from about age 10 only to lose him to misplaced gang violence, breathe and by that I mean breathe fire when her anger and hurt consume her. At other times her Lena manages to keep her emotions in check enough to accomplish great things, like getting a friend of Tray's, who is a gang member (Tray was not), to find out exactly how the death went down, something her soul needs to know. It is a stunning performance.

Tray is 18, but he is played here by Wesley T. Jones, who is about 30 and very self assured. Jones is unable to appropriately convey a man-child who is cocky one moment and unsure of himself the next. Rachel Lu as former stepmother Merrell is satisfactory, but the script doesn't give her the goods to work with. Catalina Grieco (seen) and Deysha Nelson share the role of Devine, Tray's adored younger sister. Miss Grieco is best in conveying the physical aspects of the role; she does not project well to the back of the theater. Rounding out the cast is Warren Jackson as Junior. He is quite fine, strongest in the scene where Lena gets him to spill the information she needs to hear to heal.

Kate Alexander directs, and I really don't think that she is at fault for the shortcomings. The script offers us a group of characters that are not not well drawn. It is not the best work I have seen from this usually fine artist, but she is swimming up river with this play. Scenic design by Ken Goldstein is perfect—the moment the audience sees the sets as they enter the theater, they know where this play takes place, a less than desirable neighborhood in almost any large city. This time is is Brownsville, Brooklyn, but the exact location isn't critical. Costume designs by Matthew Lefebvre are equally fine for establishing time and place. Lighting designer Rachel Budin creates some really interesting effects, including auto headlights moving across a scene. Sound design by Thom Beaulieu is effective, but Ms. Grieco could use some more help being understood.

While not the strongest production ever offered by Florida Studio Theatre, brownsville song (b-side for tray) will be the basis for some thought-provoking discussions, including a Panel Discussion at the theater on March 6 at 5:00pm when the subject will be "Social Status of the Young Black Male."

Florida Studio Theatre presents brownsville song (b-side for tray) through March 26, 2017, at the Gompertz Theater 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

Cast:
Lena: Alice Gatling*
Devine: Catalina Grieco/Deysha Nelson
Junior: Warren Jackson*
Tray: Wesley T. Jones
Merrell: Rachel Lu**=Member of Actors' Equity Association

Director: Kae Alexander
Scenic Designer: Ken Goldstein
Costume Designer: Matthew Lefebvre
Lighting Designer: Rachel Budin
Sound Designer: Thom Beaulieu
Stage Manager: Roy Johns*


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