Review: SILHOUETTE OF A SILHOUETTE at Wilbury Theatre Group

World-premiere drama by acclaimed local performer Rose Weaver

By: Oct. 03, 2022
Review: SILHOUETTE OF A SILHOUETTE at Wilbury Theatre Group

Rose Weaver has impeccable credentials: a highly respected actress, singer, and writer, whose star turn as Aunt Ester in last season's Gem of the Ocean at Trinity Rep was transcendent. Alas, the world premiere of her new play, Silhouette of a Silhouette at the Wilbury Theatre aims high, but never quite soars.

In his pre-show announcement at the premiere on Sunday, Oct. 2, Wilbury artistic director Josh Short noted that the show has been in development since a staged reading ten years ago. And while much of the language is absolutely gorgeous at the sentence level, overall, the impression is one of a script whose reach exceeds its grasp.

Described as "semi-autobiographical," the story follows a Southern African-American family, Daddy Lewis (Jomo Peters), Mama Anna (Cilla Julia Bento), and their son Bobby (Rudy Cabrera), as intergenerational trauma takes its toll. As the play begins, Daddy Lewis has just passed, and mourners gather (around an open grave done as a brilliantly executed lighting effect) to pay respects and lament their various losses. "Where am I gonna get my weed?" one asks.

Daddy Lewis was a neighborhood wheeler-dealer, running a popular nightspot where drugs and booze were available on credit. "I'm just like Joe," says Daddy, in a running reference to the Kennedy family paterfamilias, Joseph P., and his dynastic machinations.

But this family tree is diseased. Son Bobby wants to be an architect, but gets shot in the leg by one of Daddy's business associates and ends up wearing a brace and limping through a life headed in the wrong direction: HIV-positive and addicted, we meet him in a jail cell describing the dreamy euphoria of a speedball to his attorney, "Like you a spoke on the Big Wheel." Cabrera is compelling throughout, deftly conveying the conflicting, churning emotions of Bobby's character.

Perhaps the play's title is a nod to these two generations ending up as the chalked outlines of crime scene photos.

The women in the play struggle mightily for the souls of these men. Mama Anna bursts into Daddy's club to rescue her son. "There is no American Dream for a narrow dreamer," she says. Daria Lyric Montaquila, as Bobby's girlfriend, Diane, turns in an outstanding performance as she tries to support Bobby and rescue him from a drug hallucination gone bad that leads him to the house of Cecil, a wife-beating Klansman (Teddy Lyle).

Maggie Papa plays Cecil's wife Lucy, her black eye complementing his white hood, and the two women have a wonderful moment together while Bobby is passed out at the kitchen table. There is a beat, where Montaquila looks over at Papa while she struggles to right the slumping Bobby, that is piercingly authentic. The two women bond, and Papa talks about sneaking off to the local Baptist church and tells a story about the writing of the hymn "Amazing Grace." There is fine work by both Papa and Montaquila in this tight little vignette.

But therein lies the core problem with the show: it never loses the feel of a series of loosely connected vignettes, which shift forward and backward in time without any device to help situate the audience. It is not helped by Weaver's use of two "angel/devil on your shoulder" characters, the Dog Ghost (Helena Tafuri) and Doleful Creature (Brianna K. Rosario), bickering sprites who sometimes appear to be whispering in Bobby's ear, sometimes physically stepping into the action. (Rosario's costume is a delight; kudos to designer Jaimy Escobedo.)

The direction, by Don Mays, does not help. Despite the issues with the script, there are missed opportunities to bring clarity through staging, and even at a running time of 75 minutes, the action feels lethargic. Granted, Mays does his best to move things along, as each scene is effectively conjured up with just a few bits of furniture on a mostly blank stage. But the script does not give him -- nor the mostly talented cast -- much to work with, and the last scene, combining spirituals, prayer, hallucination, kibitzing ghosts in chains, nattering shoulder angels, and gunplay is sodden, confusing, and overdetermined.

Weaver seems to be reaching for the elevated, dreamlike reality of the "Middle Passage" sequence of Gem of the Ocean or the hallucinatory descent into madness of works like O'Neill's Emperor Jones. Her aim is high, her ear for dialogue keen. And the story she tells is unquestionably powerful, but it just never quite comes into focus. Weaver's writing is gorgeous and lyrical, capturing the essence of each character, but the overall effect is undercut by being diffracted into vignettes and twisted by the mind of an unreliable narrator.

Still, there is much to appreciate here. With outstanding performances by Cabrera and Montaquila and beautifully crafted language (multiple monologues offer everyone in cast the chance to show their range) this is a deeply felt story given a worthy production at the Wilbury.

Silhouette of a Silhouette by Rose Weaver, Directed by Don Mays. Wilbury Theatre Group, 475 Valley St. Providence, RI. Performances Thurs-Sun Oct 6-8 7:30pm, Sun Oct 9 2pm, Wed-Fri Oct. 12-14 7:30pm, Sun Oct. 16 2pm. Tickets: Standard $35, Budget friendly, $15, all performances are "Pay what you can." Online at https://thewilburygroup.org/silhouette-of-a-silhouette.html or box office (401) 400-7100. Proof of vaccination or negative Covid test and masking required. Content note: Physical violence, sexual situations, and gunshots.

Photo: Erin X. Smithers




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