REVIEW: GUILT, LIES AND LUST Brings Fresh Energy to Evergreen Theatre
In Shakespeare's day, actors performed for boistrous crowds that ate, drank, cheered, booed and shouted occasional quips at the stage. Poetic soliloquies illuminated those stories and moved them forward. To my astonishment and delight, I found a modern day urban equivalent in Guilt Lies & Lust 2.
This casual, community atmosphere was apparent from the get-go. We walked into the Evergreen Theatre lobby to find homemade food for sale which patrons carried to their seats. Co-author and actress, Dee Dotson concluded her high-engery welcome by inviting the audience to take cellphone pictures of the ensuing murder, blackmail and betrayal--as long as we refrained from using the flash.
What followed was a level of audience engagement I'd never experienced while watching a traditional stage play. In simple terms, it was a blast!
This wasn't anything like the standardized "on cue" participation of a Rocky Horror show, or the conventional group dynamic that accompanies classic American melodrama. It was something spontaneous and alltogether different--which is why it felt so refreshing and worked so well.
This low-budget show, performed by actors with varying degrees of stage experience started out a bit heavy on the exposition, and in some spots, the blocking and acting were rough. It took a scene and a half for the drama to gain momentum. But once we chugged, rollercoaster-style, up that first steep hill, we were off on a wonderful, wild ride! The experience brought back a childhood memory: two Southern Baptist neighbors invited me to their church where, unlike my familiar Sunday masses, there were gospel harmonies and shouts of "Amen" and "Praise the Lord!" from the congregation. I took it in. My world grew bigger.
Likewise, this show expanded my notion of legitimate theatre. Written by husband and wife duo, Tim and Dee Dotson of Inner City South this play is their twelfth stage production and the second in this series about an ongoing saga of corruption in Chicago. Its elaborate plot rests on a simple premise: everyone has a secret. The story is told with a combination of dialogue and hip-hop inspired poetic soliloquies. Its over-the-top sensibilities are part soap opera, part 1930's radio serial. The ensemble--Elliott Nelson, Jai Johnson, Dee Dotson, Emily Williams Tim Dotson, c'beyohn, Delvyn Brown, Walter "Sir Walt" Andrade, and Jasira Montsho--is a variety pack that includes a rap artist and a visual artist along with veteran stage and film actors.
This contemporary urban melodrama is a well-crafted piece of folk art, not a photo realisitic painting. Perfect in its imperfections. Vibrant and alive in the moment. Full of heart and soul. The spontaineity and audience/actor dynamic made me wonder what nuances I'd missed in the previous performances and what might occur in the shows to follow. It exemplifies why I love Memphis. Its joyful energy is what live theater is all about.
I can't wait for the next installment of this one-in-the-world show. Go-if you possibly can--for the experience!