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Vincent River is a revealing, organic journey

If you were to ask the average U.S black person born before 1980 what they thought about the Ku Klux Klan, just the mere mention of those three words would invoke some inner measure of fear based on what the organization stands for and its relationship to African-Americans.

Ask any member of the gay and lesbian community how they feel about hate crimes and a similar discomfort would probably register due to the history and recent increase in sexuality-based crimes.

The most visible symbol for the LGBT community is the death of Matthew Shepard, a college student from Wyoming who was savagely tortured and left for death based on his sexuality. He later died of massive head injuries.

Shepard, however isn't alone, joined by lesser known individuals like Tyra Hunter, Bella Evangelista, Simmie Williams, Emonie Spaulding, and Dallas resident Jimmie Lee Dean, who miraculously survived his hate-based assault.

School bullying based on perceived or actual perception of one's sexuality appears to be on the rise, with the high profile story of Lawrence "Larry" King, a 15-year old minority shot to death by a fellow student he had a crush on and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year old black male who hung himself after relentless teasing, taunts and allegations of being gay (which appear to be unfounded).

Vincent Rivers, presented by Theatre Britain in cooperation with Uptown Players, is now running through Jun. 21 at the KD Studio Theatre, is a story that has at its core a hate-based crime, the murder of a young British male named Vincent River. Where this story departs from the manner hate crimes are dealt with in the country, usually as news sound bites, Vincent River takes an organic journey into the mindset of the parent(s) and their quest to understand who their homosexual child was. 

Written by Philip Ridley, directed by Robin Armstrong, with wonderful set design by Darryl Clement, the production features an outstanding acting duo in Sue Roberts-Birch and James Chandler in the roles of Anita and Davey, respectively.

The play opens with Anita returning home to her new flat in East London. As she approaches her door, a familiar figure is nearby lurking in The Shadows. Slightly startled but not frightened, Anita lets herself into her apartment and starts what appears to be a daily routine. But it is not routine in that she keeps going to her window and peeking out of a crack in her blinds. The stranger is still there and I'm thinking in my seat "idiot, call the police!"

But Anita doesn't. She lets the stranger in. How odd, I think. And then Anita starts what I soon realize is an intricate interrogation of 'who dunnit', if you will. In this case, who killed my son Vincent and what do you know?

Roberts-Birch, who has an uncanny resemble to award-winning actress Susan Sarandon in this production, starts her fact-finding expedition with the finesse of a pro, a quirky pro that is. She is a chatty Cathy and just talks and talks and talks. And it drives the stranger crazy, who we soon come to know is named Davey. 

At the beginning of this when I discovered a hate crime was involved, I wanted Anita to pump the answers immediately out of Davey, who tried to shrug her and once left the house. But as Anita kept pulling Davey and the audience back into her web, I realized in the microwave society we live in where we want everything RIGHT NOW, sometimes it's best to cook the old-fashioned way. In this regard, Vincent River delivered and did not disappoint.

Anita opens up about her son and when she speaks of Vincent, the love she had for him is evident even though one gets the feeling she learned to minimize his sexual orientation. Robert-Birch was magical in this scene, especially as she touches some of her son's personal artifacts and shares stories of his upbringing.

We find out however that Anita is still deeply grieving Vincent when she holds one item and starts to sing cryptically "twinkle, twinkle, little start, how I wonder, what you are..."

Anita learns Davey has a girlfriend, Rachel and had some type of relationship with her son. Relentless in her pursuit of the truth, Anita continues her game of making Davey comfortable, still talking a mile a minute with Davey remaining mostly silent and reeling him in hook-line-and sinker.

It works because Davey feels comfortable working his basic knowledge of reflexology on Anita's tired feet and offering her a joint to relax. When Davey asks her "how do you feel?", Anita responds "bloody stuck to my feet." Davey counters with "bloody good or bloody bad?", to which she says "real bloody good stuck to my seat!"

Now it is Chandler, who at first appeared to be as significant as a table lamp against the stage presence of Roberts-Birch, who rose to the occasion and commanded the stage with the story of Davey's knowledge and role in Vincent's murder.

First, Davey recounts his sexual coming of age, which had Anita visibly uncomfortable hearing, as it would any parent receiving a glimpse into the world they have longed dismissed as an "alternative lifestyle." Davey shares how he met Vincent and the deep love he had for his now deceased friend with sentences like "nothing is real unless I tell Vince about it. Rache is not real. Vince is." But when he tells Anita "its like he's my oxygen. If I'm not near him, I can't breathe", it literally takes your breathe away and is Chandler's finest moment in the play.

The final scene is climatic, which is to be expected. Anita learns the full truth, breaks down, and puts Davey out of her home in what had the audience fighting to hold back tears, tears that flowed freely after the play was over.

Photo credit: Mark Trew

*Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard, in her own words about hate crimes:

For more info: Contact Theatre Britain at 972-490-4202 or email Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 214-219-2718 or online. Vincent Rivers is for mature audiences only. There is no intermission in the 1 hour and 20 minute show. Sue Roberts-Birch appears under special arrangment through the courtesy of Actors Equity Association. Vincent River is presented by arrangement with Dramatist' Play Service, Inc. in New York.

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From This Author Buster Spiller

Buster Spiller is a transplant from Michigan. Finding his artistic roots in Dallas, this veteran actor, theater producer and director loves finding good theater in (read more...)