BWW Reviews: Black Lab Theatre's THE SUBMISSION - A Must See Topical, Realistic Dramedy
Looking ahead to the Chinese New Year, 2013 is the year of the snake. With my American and Western preconceived notions about snakes and their characteristics, I can't think of a better play to champion right now. Black Lab Theatre's Regional Premiere of Jeff Talbott's THE SUBMISSION is a wholly realistic one-act that features one of the most engaging and unflinchingly honest portrayals of tangibly real Americans I have ever seen. And his character Danny would be a perfect example of what we Westerners think of as a snake.
THE SUBISSION is about a struggling playwright (Danny), who puts an absurd ghost name on his most recently written play-Shaleeha G'ntamobi. Problems ensue when a prestigious festival actually picks up Danny's play. Danny hires an African-American actress, Emilie, to pretend to be Shaleeha G'ntamobi at the festival. Danny's partner, Pete, and Danny's friend, Trevor, support his writing and love his new play, but have difficulties fully backing his plan and offer support and advice along the way. Before long, the four characters are exposing and coming to terms with the non-politically correct truths that lurk under the progressive and accepting of everyone veneer of Generations X and Y, unraveling prejudices based on outward appearance, sexual preference, and even gender.
Direction by Jordan Jaffe is expertly paced and timed. No movement or utterance comes across as contrived or scripted even. This production honestly feels like watching real people react to a real situation. In the hands of a lesser director, the characters could slip into the realm of stereotypes that would deface the brilliant value of the work; however, Jordan Jaffe has pristinely steered his cast away from those pratfalls and, as a team, they have all created astonishingly real people displaying devastatingly real emotions from beginning to climatic and breath-stealing end.
Ross Bautsch deftly plays Danny, complete with a quintessentially authentic New York accent that is neither too thick nor too thin to get in the way of his performance. The audience loves Ross Bautsch's Danny, but they (and the other three characters) are also shocked by his struggles with constantly putting his foot in his mouth. Furthermore, as Danny is further conveyed to the audience, we see a man who is so passionate about his play and his work that he devolves to being a snarky snake that threatens to sue at any moment he feels his toes might be getting slightly stepped on. Ross Bautsh has created a multi-faceted persona for Danny that is as humorous as it is off-putting.
As Emilie, Candice D'Meza is a divine revelation of stagecraft. It would be easy to let Emilie be the stereotypic angry Black woman. But Candice D'Meza has ensured that her Emilie has layers and subtleties that make her complex, charismatic, and mesmerizing. We get to know Emilie as a compassionate and loving person. We get to see her reactions to feeling attacked. We get to see her develop and lose both trust and respect in a situation that sounded better on paper than it actually turns out to be. Candice D'Meza pristinely navigates these waters and brings to life a character that earns sympathy and respect from the audience because she is completely believable from beginning to end.
Pete played by Matt Benton is also a character that could easily become just another stereotype with no depth or soul. The actor could simply phone in his best Big Gay Al impersonation and be done; yet, Matt Benton goes far above and beyond this. Matt Benton's Pete is flamboyant and swishes, but only when it is appropriate for the character to behave in such a manner. Like Candice D'Meza's Emilie, the audience is captivated and emotionally connected to Pete. His affection for Danny mirrors our own, in a way. After all, like Pete, we want Danny to succeed because Danny is our main character, but also like Pete we must come to terms with Danny's unflinching and often inappropriate political incorrectness and lack of tact. While we can react however we want, Matt Benton's Pete reacts inside the situation and does so in substantially real moments that are wonderfully evocative and entrancing, ensuring the audience is affected by his personal story within the context of the play.
Darcy Cadman's Trevor is fun and funny. The audience simply enjoys his infatuation and flirting with Candice D'Meza's Emilie. In many ways, he is a mirror to how the audience reacts to and views Emilie. As he physically and emotionally falls in love and supports her, we love her for who she is as well. Like Darcy Cadman's Trevor we see a brave woman who is valuable and deserving of affection. As he is also involved with the action of the dramedy, Darcy Cadman's Trevor adeptly reacts to the events occurring around him. Like the others, Darcy Cadman creates a character that is undeniably real. He is relatable and wins us over from his first appearance on stage. The audience completely understands his views from beginning to end and will often find themselves in his corner.
Alex Jainchill's Lighting Design is perfect for the space and show. Alex Jainchill creates a nice ambient light for the scenes and keeps the actors in believable realistic lighting as they switch from the interior of Starbucks, to the interior of an apartment, to the interior of hotel rooms.
Claire A Jac Jones' Scenic Design is fantastic. She captures the mood and vibe of Starbucks with ease, but her best work has to be the two differing hotel rooms. Emilie, as part of the festival, gets a swanky room with neat, modern trimmings while Danny is in a crummy and seedy looking room that is realistically aged. The details of the stains on the chair, carpet, and door itself are all perfectly in place. It is these details that impress the most and showcase Claire A Jac Jones' skill and dedication to her art.
Costume Design by Macy Perrone is completely realistic and believable. Each character is clad in modern clothing that perfectly suits their personalities. No piece seems out of place or awkward.
Yezminne Zepeda's Sound Design works well with the piece. Her ambient noise for Starbucks is spot on perfect. Likewise, her choice of music for between the scenes fits with the show as a whole and does nothing to detract from the experience.
With all the laughs along the way, Jeff Talbott's play is fiercely intellectual and has an ending that is not a surprise, per se, but will still surprise audiences. This is the type of show that you'll be talking about for some time to come. Mix his great writing in with this phenomenal and magnificently talented cast and crew, and Houston has their first must not be missed straight play of 2013. Everything about this production is relevant, real, current, topical, and important. Without spoiling the evening, I will simply say that the message of this play needs to be heard by one and all.
The must-see Black Lab Theatre production of Jeff Talbott's THE SUBMISSION runs through January 27, 2013 at the Frenetic Theater at 5102 Navigation Boulevard, Houston, Texas. Because of language and content, the play is recommended for mature audiences. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.blacklabtheater.com/ or call (713) 515-4028.Photos by Jordan Jaffe. All images courtesy of Black Lab Theatre.
Candice D'Meza as Emilie and Ross Bautsch as Danny.
Candice D'Meza as Emilie and Ross Bautsch as Danny.