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Review: RIVERWOOD at Langston And Seattle Public Theater

Good writing and tough subjects in a world premiere that lacks a story.

Review: RIVERWOOD at Langston And Seattle Public Theater
Brandon Jones Mooney and Jordan-Michael Whidbey
in Riverwood at Langston and Seattle Public Theater.
Photo credit: Truman Buffett

In a joint production between Langston and Seattle Public Theater, local playwright Andrew Lee Creech brings us the World Premiere of his play "Riverwood". A play that tackles some seriously tough and topical subjects affecting underdeveloped neighborhoods and people of color and that contains some wonderful writing and moments but unfortunately lacks focus and a main storyline to carry it all through.

The show mainly concerns itself with the rundown Riverwood Apartment building managed by Miss Penny (Rebecca M. Davis) and the super Lenard (Dimitri Woods). The two of them try to keep the building going for the many residents such as Dédra (Ayo Tushinde), a retail worker, and Tel (Brandon Jones Mooney), a high school student. Each of them has dreams of a better life. Tel and his friend Crunch (Jordan-Michael Whidbey) dream of becoming famous rappers, Dédra wants to open her own hair salon for people of color, Miss Penny just dreams of a better life, as does Lenard who pins all his hopes on winning the lottery. But these dreams keep getting thwarted by the myriad racial inequities that surround them, most immediate being that their neighborhood is being gentrified and they're being kicked out of their building to make way for luxury condos.

The main issue I had with the piece is that there were too many beginnings, not much in the middle and not enough of an ending. Creech has packed the show with a variety of issues plaguing people of color today. At one point Dédra deals with her bosses forcing her to make her hair less ethnic. Another moment shows Tre and Crunch discussing the fear of being shot by the police. There's also Lenard facing backlash from a mistake in his past and the oppression from the justice system and society. And to top it all off there's the gentrification of their community and the loss of its surrounding culture with the closing of local businesses. So many of these issues are brought up in isolated scenes with two or three characters but with little connection to the others or the show as a whole. Furthermore, they never resolve any of these issues. Not that I expect them to solve racism or inequality, but each moment is introduced and then either left to sit there on stage or never to be mentioned again. And then the show just kind of ends. The characters don't really grow much or find new realizations, they just move on. And while that may be closer to reality, it makes for an unsatisfying evening.

Review: RIVERWOOD at Langston And Seattle Public Theater
Ayo Tushinde and Rebecca M. Davis in
Riverwood at Langston and Seattle Public Theater.
Photo credit: Truman Buffett

However, the individual scenes and performances do show promise and shine. They're heartfelt and funny with some great, natural dialog and deftly express each of these pitfalls in the daily lives of people of color. And Creech knows how to capture the characters for the actors to sink their teeth into along with some fabulous direction from Shermona Mitchell. Davis manages a wonderful world weariness in her no-nonsense Miss Penny and her last couple of scenes are powerhouses. Similarly, Woods' final few scenes as his mistakes catch up with him show off some truly vulnerable moments and he and Tushinde share some fantastic stage chemistry. And finally, Mooney and Whidbey are hilarious together as two bravado spewing young men, but then turn around and switch from that to intense and heart wrenching emotion as they discuss their own mortality in the face of police brutality. Both bring out some truly fantastic performances.

The show, both the script and the performances, excel in so many ways but the script needs a more focused through line to really make it work. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Riverwood" from Langston and Seattle Public Theater a slightly unfinished YAY-. A wonderful show like this just needs a more satisfying ending to come full circle. Else, we're left a bit at sea.

"Riverwood" performs at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute through June 5th before moving to Seattle Public Theater running June 17th through June 26th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.



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From This Author - Jay Irwin

Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years. He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting works. Instituting... (read more about this author)

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