KPBS AIRDATE: October 06, 2006
White men, black women. When each group gets together for a ritual experience, sparks inevitably fly. The assemblages couldn’t be more different, though you could say ‘trash’ unites them. “Middle-Aged White Guys” features one seriously low-end, trashy family. And “Four Queens – No Trump” introduces a quartet of middle-class African American women assembled for their weekly game of bid-whist – and trash-talk. One play concerns the decline of America; the other, the perpetuation of a tradition.
The bridge-like card-game, bid-whist, has been in play by African Americans since the Civil War. But well-heeled director Floyd Gaffney’s feisty cast admitted to being unfamiliar with the game, so he taught them all to play. The women got into it. They also got convincingly into their roles, creating vibrant, credible characters — a psychic earth-mother, a potty-mouthed free spirit, a wealthy but unhappy wife and a skittish new divorcée. As they play cards, they chatter and dish – on the subject of men, food, shoes, bodies, sex, race and life. Each gets a chance to expose her lowest feelings and worst times – one even exposes her body – and they all find enormous support from their friends. Surprisingly, the writer is male. Ted Lange is best known as Isaac, the bartender on “The Love Boat,” though he’s written 19 plays since then, and this one garnered the NAACP’s Best Play Award for 1997. There isn’t much plot to his comedy, but Lange has an excellent ear for dialogue; and he manages to capture just how women talk and think and interact – when men aren’t around. And these particular women are especially good company – warm, funny, rowdy, hellbent on winning at cards and fiercely protecting each other. It’s a tribute to females and friendship.
In “Middle-Aged White Guys,” the tables are turned. A supposed woman has written about the trouble with America and what men need to do to make things right. I say ‘supposed woman’ because for decades, the identity of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Jane Martin has been a mystery. No one’s ever seen her, but most folks think ‘she’s’ really Jon Jory, the former artistic director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Whoever she is, in this caustic 1995 man-bashing allegory, Martin is in high spirits and whimsical form. Three corrupt brothers come together in a garbage dump for their annual memorial to the woman one of them married but all loved. The beautiful young suicidal RV comes back to haunt them, as do Elvis and their long-dead mother. Under the direction of Ralph Elias, the performances are terrific, and the humor high, even if we have to watch that pot-bellied trio drop their drawers as part of their cosmic penance.
So spend an evening with warm-hearts or wackos. Or, expand your horizons and see both.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.