This 'Imperfection' has more than a few flaws

November 04, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Every family has some psychological scars, but the family in "Imperfection Flawed," receiving its area premiere at Arena Players, has more than most.

African-American brothers Michael and Simon haven't spoken in 10 years -- not since Simon refused to help when Michael needed money for a lawyer and ended up spending a year in jail. Michael's family was forced to go on welfare that year, but now it's Simon who's short on cash -- one step from being homeless.

To make matters worse, Simon's white wife, Cassandra, has psychiatric problems, and a loan shark is trying to shake Simon down for an overdue $2,000.

Written by Lillie Marie Redwood, wife of John Henry Redwood, an actor and playwright who has worked at Center Stage, "Imperfection Flawed" had a staged reading at Arena Players last year. The current full production, directed by Steven Maurice, has some able performances, but the play itself is overwritten and heavy-handed.

Consider, for instance, that the name of this feuding family is "Battles." Or that Simon has never forgiven Michael for the fact that their mother died giving birth to Michael -- an old wound that festers during the play.

The quick and neat resolution of the subplot about the loan shark also strains credibility. For a while, I suspected the hood hounding the Battles would turn out to be a kind of surrealistic character -- an evil spirit who ultimately brings out the best in his supposed victims. But nothing in Pete Smak's performance or Arena's production suggests he is anything more than he appears.

However, it's the family dynamic, more than the tone or even the plot, that's central here. Redwood makes some valid points about relationships between brothers, husbands and wives, and parents and children. Michael's teen-age daughter, Imani, is stunned that her father, who has always preached the importance of family ties, and her mother, a nurse with a strong, caring attitude, seem so callous to Simon and Cassandra.

Keisha Kania Harvin, a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts, is impressively naturalistic as Imani, and Cynthia Forbes delivers a realistic performance as her mother.

Chronologically, Imani may be the play's youngest character, but it is her uncle Simon who has the most growing up to do. A laid-off corporate manager, Simon suffers primarily from the sin of pride -- a one-note character flaw that, as depicted by Louis B. Murray, primarily takes the form of stubbornness.

Jefferson A. Russell is effective as his much-wronged brother, Michael. But Ellen Strauss' portrayal of the mentally unstable Cassandra is exaggerated to the point of eliciting titters from the audience. (Most of the roles are double-cast and are played by different actors on alternating weekends.)

The play's title refers to a line of Simon's about God making man imperfect, and man constantly adding more flaws. Despite Arena Players' earnest efforts, they do not compensate for the imperfections in "Imperfection Flawed."

'Imperfection Flawed'

Where: Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St.

When: 8: 30 p.m. Fridays, 7: 30 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 16

Tickets: $18

` Call: 410-728-6500

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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