By Amy Drayer
For The Beachcomber
Snapdragon’s Black Cat Cabaret hosted three “Plays in a Snap” readings last weekend as part of the Vashon Repertory’s Theatre Fest, including “She’s Hot,” on Friday, July 23, written by Sarah Overman and directed by Samantha Sherman, and “Legacies: A Ghost Story,” on Saturday, July 24, written by Amontaine Aurore and directed by Alma Davenport Person.
“She’s Hot” starred Evan Whitfield as Paul, a morally befuddled ad agency writer and would-be poet beset on all sides by annoying co-workers, shallow women, and the omnipresent interwoven threats of climate change and mass consumerism.
Whitfield consistently sparkled in the black comedy alongside co-stars Joel Wiegner, Ellie Hughes, Brenda Joyner, Jill Bulow, and Sandy Matthews. While the play is centered in the existential, the multigenerational cast grounded their characters well in the all too human foibles and the conscious and unconscious choices we make daily that add up to a disaster on a global scale.
Playwright Overman, a Pacific Northwest native with broad experience in the metropolitan ethos she critiques in “Hot,” has recently returned to Seattle after almost two decades immersed in theatre in New York and San Francisco.
She acknowledges her own time at an ad agency as a major influence in the play; “Hot” frequently calls on identifiably urban concerns and opens with Paul telling his co-workers that he witnessed an “old lady with an errand cart” drown on the corner as he risked life and limb on his commute that morning. From there, Paul is presented with a series of ever-more concrete choices as the world crumbles, ultimately stranding him with his wife on a raft to nowhere on the flooded eastern seaboard.
It’s hard to empathize too directly with Paul, perhaps because Overman so carefully sets him up to fail in such human ways. Whitfield deftly finds the humor and owns these empathetic moments, even when Paul is at his murderous worst. Foiled by his wife Olivia, played by Brenda Joyner, the two actors discovered a dramatic climax in the final scenes that carried this entertaining polemic to an on-theme morally ambiguous finish.
Legacies: A Ghost Story
From the opening act, it’s obvious why Vashon Rep collaborated with Brown Soul Productions to include “Legacies: A Ghost Story” in the “Snap” series. As with the other “Snap” plays, “Legacies” is still under development — but it’s not hard to imagine it appearing soon as a jewel in the season for any major company. In this reading, “Legacies” was narrated by actress Chloe Monroe, set against the backdrop of a crumbling house inherited by lead character Cashew, played by regional standout Lilian Afful-Straton.
Playwright Aurore immediately engages the audience in the complex epigenetic traumas of the Black experience that are crushingly timeless and immediately relevant. The central metaphor of the house as the corrupted legacy of slavery becomes at once tangible and transcendent when Cashew encounters Jim Crow, played by Kenny Alton, and his dog, Bull, played by West McClean. Crow initially asks for her help, then blatantly manipulates Cashew, and installs himself in her home. In a nod to the socially unaddressed and unresolved crimes of Reconstruction, Crow continues to psychically and physically terrorize her as he moves in Bull and his wife Jane, played by Terra Shaller, effectively recolonizing the meager legacy.
Throughout the piece, Aurore seamlessly employs magical realism to lift the subject matter beyond the play’s surface material. House Guest, a ghostly embodiment of Cashew’s ancestors, is well-read by Ayo Tushinde. She tries patiently to mentor Cashew while she propels the thematic through-line; how can Cashew ever thrive while she carries the weight of an unexamined history? Ultimately Cashew confronts this tension in a profound and inspiring monologue, asking, “If I leave everything, who will I be? Who will I be if I hold on to it?” Aurore then capitalizes on the denouement and sends her protagonist the eternal Jengi, who drives her to finally confront the Crow family and reconcile the burden of history.
While the writing is a triumph overall, perhaps most vitally Aurore offers each of the characters and the audience empathy while simultaneously delivering searingly specific dialog and a clear-eyed examination of the personal and systemic racist failures of white Americans past and present. Islander West McClean admirably captures this opportunity as Bull, Jim Crow’s dog, represents the police state and vacillates between aggressive growls and incisive dialog.
During the post-show talkback, Aurore traced the idea for the work to a poem written during her time with Project Pilgrimage and the influence of the program is clear. Washington-based Pilgrimage builds cohorts of diverse individuals and leads travel to spaces that have been uniquely impactful to the Black experience in America and participants are urged to reflect and integrate a deeper understanding of this history in their lives and work.
Designed to support plays in development, the “Snap” series hosts talk back at all performances. Trista Baldwin, an accomplished Vashon playwright, facilitates these sessions focused on providing immediate feedback as the writers further develop the works.
“Plays in a Snap” continues this weekend with three additional pieces during Vashon Repertory’s Theatre Fest. Shows last weekend played to a full house, and those interested in attending the “Snap” series should note that the performances have been moved inside, though they were originally publicized as outdoor productions.
For more information about the “Snap” series and Theatre Fest, visit VashonReperatoryTheatre.org.