Talbert tests his plays in Baltimore Theater: The director, writer and producer of 'Mr. RIGHT NOW!' says he trusts this city to uncover the flaws in his work


September 21, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

David E. Talbert -- producer, writer and director of seven African-American stage shows -- has great fondness and respect for Baltimore audiences, and not just because he went to college here.

"The thing that always surprises me about Baltimore -- being a blue-collar city, it gravitates toward what it finds real. And out of the many cities I play across the country, I use Baltimore as a barometer of how I'm going to do other places because [Baltimore audiences] can detect phoniness quicker than any other city that I'm playing," says Talbert, whose latest show, "Mr. RIGHT NOW!", opens a one-week run at the Lyric Opera House Sept. 29.

A Washington native, Talbert, 32, got his first taste of show business as a talk-show host on WEAA at Morgan State University, where he majored in marketing. "No one knew I was, at the time, only 21 years old," he recalls. "I was bluffing the listeners because I had a heavy voice. They all thought I was this old man."

After his junior year, he went to work for a radio station in Ohio. But he returned to Morgan State to finish college, working nights at Washington's WDJY, where he was known as "Super Dave. "When I would get off the air, I would drive straight to Baltimore, go to sleep at one of my friends' houses, then get up three hours later, go to school, then immediately drive home and get some sleep and do it all over again," he says.

His first job after college was at KSOL in the San Francisco Bay area, but he left the station after a change in management and decided to try writing, something he'd discovered a knack for at Morgan. He developed his first show, "Tellin' It Like It 'Tiz!", by tape recording customers at an Oakland barbershop and the girlfriends of one of his female friends. The show opened in Berkeley in 1991 and toured 40 cities.

In addition to his seven stage shows, last year Talbert produced, wrote and directed his first feature film, "A Woman Like That." The movie, which stars Tyra Banks, Malik Yoba and John Amos, won the 1997 Urbanworld Film Festival Award for best dramatic feature.

Talbert credits his marketing degree with helping him identify the audience for his plays, which he describes as focusing on emotions instead of aesthetics. "I just always was fascinated with target marketing and finding niches and finding out what people would really gravitate toward. That's probably one of the biggest reasons I've been able to be successful, because I understand my audience and I market toward them," he says. He will give a workshop for students at Morgan on Friday.

In creating his shows, Talbert relies on what he describes as W.E.B. Du Bois' four fundamentals of traditional theater: "It has to be written by us, for us, about us and near us." With that in mind, Talbert says, "I make sure in all my plays that my characters mirror the everyday lives of African-Americans."

"Mr. RIGHT NOW!" is about a single mother in search of a husband. The show opened at the end of August in Las Vegas, where the recently married Talbert now lives. Baltimore is the second city on a nine-month tour. "I always come here early," he says. "Any adjustments I need to make, I make right here in Baltimore. It's a tough audience."

Show times for "Mr. RIGHT NOW!" at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., are 8 p.m. Sept. 29 through Oct. 3 and 7: 30 p.m. Oct. 4, with matinees at 3 p.m. Oct. 3-4. Tickets are $19.50-$26. Call 410-494-2712.

'West' not wild enough

Presumably there was a reason the Wild West was dubbed, well, "wild." But "True Tales of the Old West" -- a one-man show written and performed by Barry Price, about John Henry ("Doc") Holliday -- is as tame as a cowboy's favorite old horse, retired to pasture.

The problem certainly isn't Holliday's life, which was filled with gambling, gunfights and a little dentistry (Doc's profession before he traded his dental tools for a deck of cards and a six-shooter). In fact, the most amusing tale Price tells is of an enemy of Doc's who came to his office to have a tooth extracted. Doc extracted all of the patient's teeth, except the bad one, only to later be forced to fill the patient and a few of his cronies with lead, as he puts it.

But this and a few other exceptions aside, Price -- as directed by Robert Christie at the Spotlighters -- never manages to bring Holliday to life. He begins the show shortly before Holliday died of consumption. Waiting for the train to take him to the sanitarium, Price's gentlemanly, mustachioed Holliday attempts to regale us with tales of his colorful past -- the diagnosis of tuberculosis that led him to forsake a respectable life in favor of professional gambling; his lifelong relationship with the dance-hall girl nicknamed "Big Nose Kate"; his friendship with BTC Wyatt Earp and his brothers; and, of course, the famed shootout at the OK Corral.

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