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Review: NINE NIGHT at Round House Theatre

The play is meticulously produced and presented by Round House Theatre

Review: NINE NIGHT at Round House Theatre
Lilian Oben in Round House Theatre's production of Nine Night.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

Past secrets and traditions are remembered, present feelings and resentments are exposed, and future plans collide when the death of a beloved matriarch (of a Jamaican -British family) shatters the strictures of daily life for the celebration of Nine Night (a celebration of family/friends, food, and music for the departed).

This very intelligent play written by playwright Natasha Gordon portrays a family in turmoil in an England that does not want them and with a heritage of Jamaican traditions that they are trying to preserve. The ghosts and spirits of the past converge upon the characters here ---encased in the superb writing of Ms. Gordon. A sense of time shifting, and re-shaping exists as the spirits of the deceased matriarch mix with the seven characters.

The play is meticulously produced and presented by Round House Theatre and it is the U.S. premiere of what was an acclaimed run in London's West End. Tautly directed by Timothy Douglas, the intimate cast of seven characters could almost be construed to be eight as the beloved matriarch Gloria is a constant hovering presence (and is visually portrayed by a huge, framed photo at the top of the set---as well as a smaller photo in the family home setting beneath----Intricate and impressive scenic design by Tim Mackabee).

Director Douglas integrates the play with such firm control -this is evident as there is a continual intermingling of all the dramatic elements that never seems forced; every stage movement seems to arise spontaneously and organically.

Ms. Gordon incorporates mystical and magical elements from the Jamaican culture such as signs, omens, and portents. The thought did arise in my mind as to the playwright presenting the characters in such an emotionally isolated vein (almost akin to the play August, Osage County) with not quite the degree of familial reciprocity you might see in certain moments of life? Is it due to distress in the family from having to grasp onto survival so tightly in order to survive in a cold harsh Britain or, perhaps, could it be because of the controlling and domineering Mother's influence passed down to them? Perhaps it is the weight of all the grief the characters are carrying?

There is, however, a glimmer of love's resurgence in the family with the long-awaited arrival of the daughter Trudy (an engaging Joy DeMichelle). A joyous extended scene of exuberance and radiance is displayed when Ms. DeMichelle's character gives gifts from her home and inspires the character of Anita (a marvelous performance by Kaitlyn Boyer) to dance in her new outfit.

The mooring point of the play seems to be the impelling subtlety of the performance by Lilian Oben in the role of the ever-patient caretaker Lorraine. Ms. Oben captures the essence of the family member who sacrifices many of her own dreams to care for her dying mother and her independent-minded daughter. Ms. Oben's scenes with her business-minded brother Robert (a well-cast Avery Glymph) convey the frustrations and patience of this extremely well -written character. Ms. Oben's scene where she breaks down and radically realizes the meaning of losing her mother is devastating in its raw power.

As the matriarch's cousin Vince, Doug Brown penetratingly portrays a man who is holding on to what is meaningful to him in a world that is changing too rapidly for him to hook into.

Kim Bey's strong and slyly witty portrayal of the character of Maggie is enjoyable to savor throughout the play. Ms. Bey's scene talking about the developing plans as pertaining to preserving the deceased and planning for the funeral was priceless.

Katie DeBuys as Sophie lent solid and deft support in her role.

As mentioned earlier, scenic design by Tim Mackabee was very impressive. The depth of the stage was utilized to convey hallways and a stairway behind the main stage action of the kitchen and a seating area. A lifetime of personal items and decorative family visuals were seen on the walls and shelves.

Lighting by Harold F. Burgess is exquisitely handled and underscores emotional peaks and valleys to a tee.

Costume design by April Hickman was very apt.

Sound design by Matthew M. Nielson was very effective.

Plays about death or impending death and how it affects others has been a weighty and pervasive theme throughout theatrical history including such works as Marvin's Room, Death of a Salesman, The Shadow Box and The Death of Bessie Smith. Playwright Gordon has so ingeniously continued this theme with the added twist of a complex and compelling intermingling of traditions and heritage colliding with present day challenges and discrimination (yet with glimmers of hope for the future through family --).

Round House Theatre should be commended for presenting the U.S. premiere of the challenging and rewarding Nine Night by Natasha Gordon. Just as we wait for the arrival of Trudy to unite with her other family members in the play, ---we have waited for a playwright who speaks to the moment like Natasha Gordon.

Running Time: One Hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission

Nine Night runs though October 9, 2022 at Round House Theatre located at 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD, 20814.

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From This Author - David Friscic

David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college.  He is thrilled ... (read more about this author)

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