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Goodman's 'STOOP STORIES' a Poetic, Yet Hasty, Tour of Manhattan

At 792 miles away from Chicago's Loop, northerly Manhattan -Harlem specifically- remains a Romanticized jazz-filled world of soul, rhythm, & heart.  Its urban beats, jazz roots, and communally encompassing stoops are as specific and localized as Chicago's (or any other major city's) multicultural neighborhoods.  STOOP STORIES, currently playing at the Goodman Theatre, is a solo performance piece definitely worth exploring, though a slightly disjointed evening awaits.

Dael Oleandersmith's STOOP STORIES was first performed in 2008 as part of The Public Theatre's Under the Radar Festival, followed by an official staging at Washington D.C.'s Studio Theatre.  Under Jo Bonney's speedy yet occasionally unsatisfying direction, STORIES is opening the Goodman Theatre's 2009/2010 season.  Upon seeing writer and performer Oleandersmith (a Pulitzer Prize finalist for YELLOWMAN) take the stage in the Goodman's Owen space, you are greeted with a gifted and gracious performer.  Her demeanor, flow, and overall presence is that of a suave coffeehouse poet with an actor's sense of commanding an audience with anticipatory need.
 
A skilled wordsmith and clever narrator, Oleandersmith commands Collette Pollard's simple yet impressive stoop set with ease and charismatic energy.  From a Puerto Rican junkie to a Polish Holocaust survivor named Herman (the evening's best and most heart-felt piece), STOOP STORIES is fashioned around monologues by inhabitants of Oleanadersmith's life, in and around the island of Manhattan.  Her shift from one colorful character to another is seamless in performance, but the flow of the show becomes rocky when she molds character-driven monologues with STORIES' weaker dramatic arch surrounding Oleandersmith's life.  The focus and delivery of the pieces (poems, monologues, etc.) are beautifully executed, but STORIES' focus is blurred by the sometimes less compelling arch. Director Jo Bonney does not allow for much pathos when timing out the pieces, thus the show's 65-minute run time.  An evening of either just New Yorker-driven monologues or just Oleandersmith's anecdotes would have made for a more solid show.

This is not to say Oleandersmith has not written a soulful piece.  Her dedication to each character is beyond commendable and there are several moments of smoke-filled jazz-area monologues (Herman's monologue specifically, lit delicately by Keith Parham) that make the show worthwhile.  Dael Oleandersmith's STOOP STORIES is an almost cohesive evening of poetic smoke, song, and soul.  Small quibbles aside, STORIES allows audiences to follow a gifted New York City tour guide without the hassle, or embarrassment, of climbing aboard a red double-decker bus.

STOOP STORIES runs now through October 11, 2009 in the Goodman's Owen Theatre.  For tickets, visit www.goodmantheatre.org.

Photo by Eric Y. Exit


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From This Author William Panek