BWW Review: MAN IN LOVE at KCRep Copaken Stage
Playwright Christina Anderson's new work "Man In Love" is a premier feature in the second annual OriginKC: New Works Festival. The festival unearths new, adventurous stories that speak to the heart of the diverse KCRep region.
With "Man In Love," Kansas City born and raised writer Christina Anderson crafts a macabre and suspenseful work. In an historical depression-era city a killer goes invisibly about spreading murder and fear. Characters compelled by the dire circumstances of their time, each seeking love and acceptance, grow increasingly worried as the body count climbs and gets closer.
As the show opens the audience is met with a landscape that feels only a small step up from sleeping on the streets. Scenic Designer Antje Ellerman's scaffold layers, stark stairway, industrial and neon lighting, and corrugated metal show a bleak but not barren life. Lilting jazz music from a lone phonograph is a beautiful contrast to glaring reminders of injustice and Cliff Caruthers sound design offers understated emphasis at precisely the right moments. Jeffrey Cady's lighting highlights the actors as their varied secrets are revealed. The timing moves quickly (performed without intermission) even with frequent rapid-fire scene shifts, much to the credit of the crew, actors, and director Marissa Wolf. There are a few lines lost to upstage delivery, but generally the dialog is clearly understood. A shout out to Paul Mesner for a "dead body" that is perfectly cast and costume designer Caroline Allender, who gives a convincing view of a bygone era.
The cast delivers persuasive performances, but the real standout of the ensemble is Rufus Burns (as Paul Pare, Jr.) portraying a polite, but stifled library worker. Burns deftly draws the audience in with charismatic charm as he reveals a startling character that is layered with many voices and emotional transformations. Pare forms a trio with characters Darlynn (Dianne Yvette) and Bernice (Bianca Leigh) both with flaws and secrets to rival one another. Yvette asserts both fragility and forcefulness while Leigh provides comic levity and a guarded bawdiness. A counterpoint trio consisting of Hazel (Emily Shackleford), Leigh (Justin Barron), and Walker (Michael R. Pauley) seem like the "normal ones", but as the show progresses we find them full of surprises. Shackleford provides an emotional edge to her performance with a subtle glance here, and a pensive look there. Barron, playing the romantic underdog, mimes, yearns, and acts his way into the audience's heart, and Pauley as the reformed "con" gives a tug-of-war portrayal that has the audience at times pulling for him, and at others wishing he'd end up back in the slammer.
By the end of Anderson's play she has us wondering who will get pegged for the murders, will the true killer be caught, and a surprising outcome. And, warning, "Man In Love" may have you leaving the theater looking over your shoulder more than once on your way home!
"Man In Love" runs through May28th at KC Rep's Copaken Stage in downtown's Power & Light District. Tickets available online at www.kcrep.org or call (816) 235-2700.
Photos provided by Kansas City Repertory Theatre.