Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Reckoning by Kimba Henderson

By Joe Straw

“You clean up nice.” –  Nicholas Burnside

Somewhere, locked away in a dusty cedar chest, is a journal.  In it are the juicy tidbits, and the unpredictable innermost secrets of family life.

It is opened and gazed upon only when there is a sincere interest in family history. But then one discovers some ugly truths:  that families steal from each other. 

They steal not with guns but signed pieces of paper, side agreements, and notes laid out in a family journal for future generations to see.  Generally, the keepers of the land keep that journal, locked away, behind closed doors, “until it’s time”.     

(“We don’t talk about the dead.” is a favorite expression among my southern relatives.  It’s a need to know thing: “And, you don’t need to know.”)

And by the time one is curious about one’s family history, the participants are dead.   All forgotten but there in the book, for that day, the day of reckoning.  

The Robey Theatre Company, Ben Guillory Producing Artistic Director in association with The Los Angeles Theatre Center presents The Reckoning written by Kimba Henderson and directed by Ben Guillory.

Set in 2005 The Reckoning is a fantastic story of a family struggling to keep a crawfish plantation running in Louisiana. It is an engaging story from the opening moment to the end, filled with wonderful characters.  Spread out over countless generations with loitering ghosts who believe they are the rightful heirs and who ultimately know a day of reckoning will come.   And for that reason they wait. Even in death, families never forget. Run to see this production because it closes October 24, 2010.

The play opens on a day a figurehead with a bad ticker comes home from the hospital. Nathalie Robillard (Toyin Moses) is putting up a “Welcome home Daddy” sign and Ashley Robillard (Terese Aiello) is upstairs dancing to some very loud music.  Nathalie asks her to turn it down and when that happens we hear chimes and whispers and know that ghosts inhabit the home they call Rubaiyat. 

Helene (Tanya Lane) is an old friend of the family and drops by to tell Nathalie, who has recently gotten her doctorate, that she will try to get her into a professional society Sigma Phi Pi. Nathalie also tells her she has applied for a job with Tulane University and wants to leave the farm.

Christophe Robillard (Tarnue Masaquoi) a former professional football player and now the official playboy of the family has ideas of taking over the farm himself much to the dislike of his father LJ Robillard (Alex Morris).

LJ wants his daughter to run the farm and so announces it to the entire family.  After all she is the brains of the family and recognizes that a well though out studied process can correct any misconceptions others may have about running a successful farm.  But she is conflicted because she feels her life is better suited elsewhere. 

Christophe, hearing the news, is devastated and runs off with Helene for a few days leaving his wife, Ashley to fend for herself.

In the meantime a farm worker, Nicholas Burnside (Jacob Sidney) comes to the farm to look for work. LJ takes a liking to him and says he can sleep in the cabin.  Later LJ invites him to live in the house.

Nicholas is immediately enchanted by Nathalie but Nathalie wants nothing to do with him because Nathalie is in love with Philipe (Dorian Christian Baucum) a doctor living nearby who wants to take a job in Atlanta and bring Nathalie with him.

Nicholas runs into the ghost of Captain Burnside (Michael Harrity) a former relative who gives him instructions to burn Rubiayat to the ground.  Unfortunately Captain Burnside tried this long ago but was caught in the fire that cause his unfortunate demise.

As the story progresses and Nathalie reads the journal and the audience is transported back in history to the lives of Natty (Tiffany Boone) and Auguste Robillard (Kendrick Sampson).  Auguste has taking a liking to Natty but because of her race he is forced to marry Katherine (also Terese Aiello) daughter to Captain Burnside. 

Auguste unable to have children with Katherine at first has turned to Natty and as luck would have it now has two women who are with child.  Katherine finds out about it leaves the marriage and Rubiayat altogether much to the dismay of Captain Burnside.

Morris as the patriarch LJ gives us another incredible, magical performance. His moments are captured effortlessly. It is also a physical role that has him falling down a small flight of stairs. His objective moving us toward the ultimate reckoning is flawless.

Massaquoi, last seen in The River Niger, gives another wonderful performance.   He wears many hats, slightly off centered as he moves from being a landowner, to a womanizer, to a lion of redemption.

Moses as the sophiscated enchanting Ph.D. is a match for any man that may want to take over Rubaiyat.  She fights her way through the maze of men seeking her attention.  And never gives an inch in her quest for the ultimate goal.

Baucum as Philippe wears a very proper mantel.  His mistake is thinking that others will blindly follow his path.  It is a miscalculation that keeps him out of harm’s way.

Lane as Helene lets her hips do the thinking.  Making a play for a control of Rubiayat seems to be her motive in capturing Christophe.  This is a very fine performance.

Sidney as Nicholas is an amazing actor with a characterization that grows on you as the story unfolds.   He is a seasoned professional with a Robert Stack like voice that keeps the audience guessing with his next passing remark.  His southern trailer park trash like manners, appropriate or inappropriate, hit the mark.  At one point he sits on the porch holding the shotgun, knowing family matters can sometimes get out of hand.  His family or hers, it doesn’t matter.  Still, he caresses the shotgun like an old family friend.  It is a wonderful moment of many moments in this play. 

Sampson as Auguste fills out the cast nicely with his girlfriend Natty (Tiffany Boone) playing ghosts from another time that haunts the house. These are young roles that need work on character and also needs strengthening the physical relationship.

Aiello as Katherine/Ashley Robillard offers us a fine performance but one is not sure of her objective.  Is it as imaginative as it could be?  There is more here in this character’s objective than witnessed on this particular night.  Nevertheless, this was a very fine performance.

Harrity as Captain Burnside/Gentry plays the big bad white guy. He was serviceable in the role but not imaginative.  Possibly, not that mean, not that driven, not that evil, or physical.  Certainly this is a role of someone whose has seen the depths of hell and wants to recreate it here on earth. It’s a role that needs a little more exploration.

Kimba Henderson has written a play that in some respect is old fashioned, but don’t let that fool you.  This is an exciting play, with clever dialogue, and characters rich in every respect. One would like to roll around it in its richness.

Ben Guillory has directed a very fine play and has done a masterful job. The after dinner scene was fantastic, subtle and beautifully choreographed.  These silent moments were quite incredible and subtle in execution. There were things that were objectionable, the rubber shotgun, which bent as actors were leaning it against the fence. Also, the choreographed shootout, which had audience members laughing for reasons not quite clear, needs reworking.

One of the things I find interesting is that from another time period, men and women were quite proper.  Four feet away from each other and acting all prim and proper.  It’s a wonder anyone ever had babies.  And yet everyone got pregnant and the relationships remained the same.

Naila Aladdin Sanders did a fine job with the costumes.

Ticket Reservation:  866-811-4111

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