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BWW Review: YELLOW Brings Heart and Heartache at Jewel Box Theatre

Jewel Box ushers in a new era with a raw production

BWW Review: YELLOW Brings Heart and Heartache at Jewel Box Theatre

Spring is bringing with it some exciting changes for Oklahoma City's Jewel Box Theatre. This month, the long-running company welcomed audiences to its new performance space with the Oklahoma premier of Del Shores' Yellow under the direction of Doobie Potter. The new space, housed at First Christian Church, would make a perfect setting for virtually any Del Shores play, but it carried special symbolic significance as Jewel Box ushers in a new era with a different kind of play.

Yellow follows the seemingly perfect Westmoreland family in present-day Mississippi. There's football coach Bobby, therapist Kate, and their two kids: star football player Dayne and aspiring Broadway icon Gracie. Everything seems ideal for the Westmorelands. That is, until a devastating medical diagnosis forces someone to reveal a painful secret that threatens to upend the entire family.

BWW Review: YELLOW Brings Heart and Heartache at Jewel Box Theatre
(L to R)Morgan Brown, Crystal Barby,
Taylor Lowell, and Elaina Price as
the Westmoreland family in YELLOW

Del Shores is known for his sitcom-esque comedies, most notably Southern Baptist Sissies and Sordid Lives, and the first half of Yellow reads much like his earlier plays. It begins with a look at a typical day in the lives of the Westmorelands: Gracie, the epitome of a theatre kid, is enthralled in her latest angst-riddled existential breakdown about upcoming auditions for the school production of Oklahoma! Meanwhile, Dayne is eagerly waiting for his lucky boxers to dry before the big game. Gracie's best friend and fellow aspiring actor Kendall arrives, and the two practice for their audition. Bobby and Kate seem like the ideal parents: deeply in love with each other and fully supportive of their kids' divergent aspirations and personalities. On the other end of the spectrum is Kendall's mother, Sister Timothea, a religious fanatic who shuns theatre as "the devil's playground". Initially portrayed as something of a stereotypical fanatic whose intolerant beliefs are so outrageous as to be laughed off, Sister Timothea prays for her son, who she insists on calling by his given "biblical" name of Matthew Mark.

Near the end of the first act, the play suddenly moves from sitcom to domestic tragedy when a serious medical issue forces a long-held secret to the surface. Meanwhile, Sister Timothea discovers her son's participation in the musical, and suddenly her intolerance isn't so funny anymore. What follows is a painful struggle for each of the characters as they grapple with resentments, intolerance, and a worsening health crisis.

Yellow stands out in the Del Shores canon for being much darker than his other work, though his usual themes of religious satire and LGBTQ issues are still very much present. And like many of his other works, the play takes place in the south, this time in Vicksburg, Mississippi. But this play is much rawer and has an emotional depth not found in his comedies. And unlike his earlier plays, issues of religion and sexual identity take a backseat to the family drama.

The play has a fine line that the actors must walk between comedy and tragedy, and in some cases, there's a little of both present. Jewel Box's production did a fine job walking that line, even if there were moments when you wanted it to be just a little more balanced. The production was at its best when the actors really connected to each other and allowed the humor and the emotion to speak for themselves. While there were times where the emotion felt somewhat telegraphed, every actor effectively navigated the emotional weight of the play, and this production was fully driven by heart and the humanity they found in their characters.

Morgan Brown and Crystal Barby had a charming chemistry between each other that translated well throughout the play. Brown had a likable everyman quality in Bobby, and Barby brought a quiet strength and nurturing wisdom to Kate. Elaina Price was thoroughly convincing and recognizable as a through-and-through theatre kid, histrionic outbursts and all. Her character was one who experienced the most growth throughout the play, and Price did a lovely job navigating that journey. Taylor Lowell's Dayne is a likable football star with a laidback persona. The scene in which Dayne learns that Kendall has never been kissed is one of the play's more tender moments, and it was navigated with an effective simplicity. Cam Taylor had a natural, charming innocence and vulnerability as Kendall and brought a level of heart to the show. His chemistry with Price was particularly effective, and Gracie and Kendall acting out her imagined appearance on Inside The Actors Studio with Kendall as James Lipton was a standout scene that any theatre geek will appreciate. Toby Tobin had a tough balancing act as Sister Timothea, a character who could easily be played as too over-the-top and blatantly unlikable. But Tobin brought a humanity to her character and did a lovely job showing her raw pain at what she sees as her only option in disavowing her son. Hers was not a mother making choices out of hate, but out of devotion to her interpretation of the word of God.

Shawn Hancock's set design gave the production a detailed, realistic mise-en-scene that revealed just enough about who the characters are without beating us over the head with it. The costumes were appropriately Del Shores-esque: right on the nose at the beginning of the play and with a level of nuance that gave us a sense of the characters.

Yellow introduces some tough themes and forces its audience to ask some tough questions. Jewel Box is to be commended for putting on such a raw and challenging piece, and doing it with grace, heart, and humor.

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From This Author Kevan Dunkelberg