'White Lies' is more talk than drama

November 25, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

"White Lies, Dark Secrets" -- a play written and directed by Kevin Brown at the New Metropolitan Theatre Company, where he is artistic director -- starts out as a piece of environmental theater.

Most of the first act takes place in a funeral parlor, and the audience members -- who are encouraged to wear black -- serve as mourners at the funeral of a woman named Doris Detweiler Sweetwater Brown. Wrapped around the playbill is a program for the memorial service, complete with a picture of the deceased and a detailed tribute, which ends with the part-whimsical, part-mercenary suggestion: "In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in her name to the Metropolitan Theatre Company."

However, with the exception of a brief appearance by a character called The Storyteller -- whose chief role seems to be to announce the intermission -- this is the extent of the playwright's efforts to push the theatrical envelope.

And it's just as well, since before experimenting further, Brown should probably concentrate on some of the elements required to make his play more dramatic.

As it is, "White Lies, Dark Secrets" includes plenty of heated arguments and sermonizing, but when it comes to character-transforming action, well, it's mostly talk.

Almost all of the first act is exposition as one character after another -- 14 in all -- steps up to the funeral parlor altar, introduces himself or herself and explains his or her relationship to the deceased.

The second act, which is set in the home of the deceased, features a little more activity, although the direction remains mostly static, consisting primarily of a speaker -- generally overwrought -- taking center stage while most of the other actors sit and listen.

The late Doris Brown, we learn, was a white civil rights advocate who married a black man (Bill Bush) in 1956 in Charleston, S.C. The marriage increased the ill will between their families, whose most outspoken representatives are Doris' bigoted, older sister (Bethany Brown) and brother (Christopher Moyer), and her husband's two sisters (Della Ford and Gloria Gantt).

The play includes several murky details. At times, the first act seems to be turning into a murder mystery, but the mystery element is inexplicably dropped after intermission.

And why do several actors wear dark makeup around their eyes? This may be intended to suggest grief, but it looks as if they've been in a brawl. A more important point is that none of the characters seems to change or grow in any significant way. Presumably, this is the playwright's intent; he's attempting to show how little has changed.

This is hardly the most dramatic theme to convey on stage, however, and while Brown deserves credit for trying to write something of social significance, he needs to put a lot more life into this play about death.

Indeed, perhaps the best indication of the shortcomings of "White Lies, Dark Secrets" is that the most interesting character is Doris, and she's dead.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "White Lies, Dark Secrets"

Where: New Metropolitan Theatre Company at Nirvana, 1727 N. Charles St.

When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. (No performance tonight); Through Dec. 5

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 685-9428

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