Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: “The Cost” by Aquaila Shene Barnes Presented by The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. in association with And So It Is Theatrical Productions at La Mama

This show appealed to me for three reasons: 1. I know a lot of people with some involvement in the political world either holding local office, having run for local public office, working in a government agency, lobbying/trying to lobby or helping particular candidates get elected in other ways, 2. I have personally reached out to my local political officials as maybe a professional hellraiser/squeaky wheel (note: many attorneys are professional hellraisers/squeaky wheels; my being one since elementary school has led many people to remark that I was a lawyer long before ever attending law school) and 3. People have suggested I run for public office but I feel I'm too moral for it, much like our protagonist Thomas Foster, Jr. (Junior, as he's known; portrayed by Charles Browning) turns out to be.

"The Cost" by Aquaila Shené Barnes, directed by Barbara Montgomery, presented by The Negro Ensemble, Inc. in Summer Shares at La MaMa. Justine J. Hall and Charles Browning. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Junior has been groomed by his father, Thomas Foster, Sr. (Senior; portrayed by Ivan Moore) to become the first African American governor in the state of Ohio. Senior tried to become governor but as Ralph Snyder (Robert Ierardi) says it was simply bad timing with the mix of racial prejudice. That nasty scandal with one Tanika Johnson, a paramour Senior took on as his late wife was dying of cancer (much like John Edwards did when his wife Elizabeth was also dying of cancer) likely didn't help matters either.

Toni Ann DeNoble and Robert Ierardi. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Nicole Foster (Nikki; portrayed by Toni Ann DeNoble), the dutiful daughter of Senior and younger sister of Junior takes on the role of campaign manager and brands Junior as the candidate of change (and hope circa Barack Obama in 2008) against Donald Baker, the Republican incumbent. Nicole is a natural superstar at this and Senior has grand plans for her as well though she has her own humanitarian work in Guatemala and a secret love affair with Grace Tandy (Alyssa Simon), a woman from a wealthy, conservative family who's in a loveless marriage with an absentee spouse. Nicole has everything under control, from prospective First Lady Cynthia Foster (Thia; portrayed by Justine J. Hall) and her outbursts to the business of handling press and running a clean campaign.

Toni Ann DeNoble and Charles Broning. Photo by Wai Wing Lau

She's even figured out how to deal with the thorny business of the AMPO Pipeline project and campaign contributions. However, relentless reporter Sheryl Kelly (Richarda Abrams) knows quite a few of Nikki's secrets & threatens to expose them. We learn later that Sheryl has her own secrets.

Richarda Abrams as Sheryl Kelly, a political journalist. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Sampson Riley (Andre Dell), a law school classmate and former fiance of Nikki, stops by to seek “a seat at the table” in exchange for campaign help. Senior is happy to oblige while Nikki feels otherwise, especially once Senior tries to get her to resume her prior coziness with him. Sampson was not a faithful fiance to Nikki.

Toni Ann DeNoble and Andre Dell. Photo by Wai Wing Lau

Nikki does in the end what I would love to see happen in real life: she exposes Senior and the dirty underbelly of politics and graft, freeing herself and Junior from the tyranny of living up to the Foster legacy. Junior gets his wish of going back to spend time with his kids, Nikki gets to keep her relationship with Grace (presumably going public with it) and both getting their own lives back vs. being under the control of Senior and his wish to live out his dreams through his children.

Toni Ann DeNoble as Nicole Foster. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

I also really like how Grace Tandy was portrayed. She was not portrayed as someone who was ashamed of or secretive about Nicole nor feeling family pressure to toe a line like Nicole and Junior did. Grace actually tells Nicole her circle would be okay with her so long as Nicole was willing to sign a prenup. You get the sense that Grace is content to live her life in her own way regardless of the consequences and is not a slave to her family's name or having to go on the life path her parents choose for her.

Toni Ann DeNoble and Alyssa Simon. Photo by Wai Wing Lau

Typically with a character like Grace, you expect her to be someone under immense family pressure not to date outside of gender or race especially when her family is said to be Republican and typically supportive of Junior's opponent. Republicans are almost always portrayed as homophobic, racist, fearful of parental & community disapproval and looking down their noses at progressive liberal types like Nicole regardless of her family upbringing or education level.

Alyssa Simon as Grace Tandy. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

I don't know where the writer got her inspiration for Grace or her portrayal of the Foster family but it felt very genuine, honest and authentic based on my own experiences and interactions with friends of mine from wealthy families where they felt pressured to do things they didn't really want to (such as entering particular career paths) because of parents and “the family name.” The world of the family portrayed was also quite truthful to what I have seen and heard about in my own experiences with people I know in the political world.

Toni Ann DeNoble and Ivan Moore. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

This may be the first show I saw that qualifies as “urban theater” so perhaps there is more of a soap opera feel to such shows? I can't say but the twist with Sheryl Kelly did start to make the show turn into more of a soap opera though I love the scene where Sheryl (who is actually Tanika Johnson) has a confrontation with Senior where Senior offers her money in light of her having his baby as well as a fully disgraced reputation because of him. She slaps him and this woman in the audience behind me yells “Asshole!”

The interactive nature of this show was awesome. You were indeed part of a collective experience, which is what theater ought to be. I also thought Thia was great in her honesty since I would probably be just as brazen if I became a public figure and her marriage to Junior was definitely accurate to many loveless political marriages.

Justine J. Hall as Cynthia Foster. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

A word about the musical transitions, which were wonderful for the scene changes. One of them was Xscape's “My Little Secret,” which was extremely fitting for the scene it was playing after. Playing a song that reminds me of my youth in NC is always a winner.

Speaking of reminders of my youth, this show was directed by Barbara Montgomery. I was curious if this was the same Barbara Montgomery who played Casietta Hetebrink on “Amen,” a show my family watched religiously (pun intended) back in the day. Yes, my sister & I (2 natural redheads with a red haired religious conservative mother) watched this show! Unlike many other shows of the day, our mother had no objections to this one. After all, we WERE Baptists in NC (but not Southern Baptists; both my mother and sister would still claim that religious affiliation).

My sister is a lot like Thelma Frye since she did chase and eventually get her first husband much like Thelma did in getting Reuben Gregory (though my sister didn't join the army when her guy broke their first engagement). She also lives with my mother alongside her family much like Thelma did with her father and later with her father + her husband. It was indeed the same actress and I thought it was cool that she was there in person to get her well deserved accolades at the end.

This show was a very hot ticket. It was an overflowing house with one guy in front of me being told he'd have to join the waiting list to get tickets for this show the night I saw it. They even had to redo scenes to accommodate this turnout! Should you get the opportunity to see it, you should regardless of your race or political affiliation. There's something for everyone here.