Generations clash in Arena's 'A Star'

January 30, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

CORRECTION: This column inadvertently noted recently that the Maltby and Shire musical revue, "Closer Than Ever," was playing at the Vagabond Theatre. The show is being performed by an enthusiastic cast through Sunday at the Fells Points Corner Theatre. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

The dream that you can see is the only one worth having because the star that you hang your hopes on "ain't nothin' but a hole in heaven," says one of the characters in the current Arena Players' production.

Judi Ann Mason's touching drama, "A Star Ain't Nothin' But a Hole in Heaven," featuring a fine performance by veteran actress Verna Day, is running at the Mcculloh Street playhouse through Sunday.


Directed with gritty honesty by Amini Johari Courts, the play is set on a farm in the backwoods of Louisiana in 1969. Mason's realistic work centers on the drab lives of a teen-age girl and her ailing, aged aunt and uncle.

Young Pokie has won a scholarship to an Ohio College but her dying Aunt Mamie and blind Uncle Lemuel, who took her in when her parents died, depend heavily on her attention to their necessities.

Pokie has to deal not only with the guilt she will feel if she leaves her helpless relatives alone on the farm but with the conflict she has with abandoning the traditional values of her people -- unqualified obligation to family duties no matter what the cost.

Pressured by her feisty friend Joretta, who has also won a scholarship to a college "up North," to follow her dream, Pokie is besieged from the other side by her embittered uncle and meddling neighbor, Pearl.

Both are rock-hard in their beliefs that education is the work of the devil and that a young girl should give up foolish fantasies and settle down and bear children.

Only Pokie's understanding Aunt Mamie whose body and mind is failing rapidly gives the troubled teen bountiful support.

In this clash-of-generations play, Pokie's greatest nemesis is her Uncle Lemuel. Rigidly stubborn and filled with a mean anger, Lemuel refuses to help himself in anyway and constantly raves and rants at the hapless girl about her "great responsibilities."

There is surprising revelation in the end, but it is the powerful tie between Pokie and Mamie that is the strength and power of Mason's work.

The pace was much too slow in this production and some dramatic moments dragged on endlessly.

Day was excellent but seemed too hesitant in her longer speeches. Kwame Bey as Lemuel unnecessarily shouted most of his lines, offering, at best, a one-dimensional interpretation of this complex character.

Bernadette Grawford was a sheer delight as the interfering neighbor. Candace Reason convinced as Joretta, but Stephanie Graham-Hicks as Pokie was not sufficiently involved with her character and gave a lackluster performance.

Others in the cast were Jeorge Watson as Sonny and Devron Young as Joretta's little brother.

"Closer Than Ever," the Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire musical revue, is on stage at the Vagabond Theatre through Feb. 16.

Crisply directed by Terry J. Long, with musical direction by Tim Delaney (who accompanies on the piano and sings), this smart piece makes biting, amusing and soulful commentaries on the pain and frustration of contemporary relationships through a series of 23 songs.

The incisive lyrics touch on the difficulty of opening new doors of the emotional psyche. Unrequited love, impossible triangles, critical choices, marriage, divorce, parental pride and the age-old battle of the sexes are some of the themes covered by Maltby and Shire.

Sung well enough by five local performers -- Christopher Morrison, Conni Ross, Michael P. Hoffmaster, Toni Richards and Delaney -- the show makes for an entertaining theatrical evening.

The harmony is nicely done as are most of the solo numbers. If the singers are not quite up to the quality of the sophisticated satirical material their hearts certainly are.

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