Dysfunction junction

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  March 25, 2008

But the heart of this stellar production is made up of Jennifer Harmon’s prim martinet of an Agnes and Jack Davidson’s shlubby diplomat of a Tobias, the latter a familial board chairman trying to buoy up the illusion of righteous, loyal bonhomie that has sustained his arid, affluent life. Albee has written a rising, piquant hysteria into the scene in which Tobias, eager to establish his goodness, tries to persuade the intruding friend he wants gone to stay. And Davidson not only faces the manly music, he makes a desperate, dictatorial symphony of it.

The last thing Company One resident playwright Kirsten Greenidge is attempting in The Gibson Girl (at the BCA Plaza through April 5) is a well-made play. She takes her themes — which have to do with culturally dictated female image and the need to create an African-American family — and tosses them all over the place, hoping they will somehow cohere as she pulls the pieces of her scattershot puzzle together. She wants to be Suzan-Lori Parks, but she lacks Parks’s originality and consistency of vision. Indeed, several scenes of the play are set in a private-school bathroom where the less conventional of a set of adolescent twins hangs out, plastering the walls with images of her inspirations, from Malcolm X to Toni Morrison. Parks is there, hovering above the toilet into which Greenidge threatens to take her.

Twins Valerie and Win — one light-skinned, the other dark — are the ostensible progeny of Ruth, who has resorted to desperate means to lure her abandoning husband back. She has consulted a Jamaican psychic, who seems to see through her and has attached faucets to her maple trees, hoping the sap will be a siren call to the rhetoric-spouting PhD who took their light-skinned daughter as a sign from God to vamoose toward a philosophic destiny somehow tied to advocacy of the racially pure black woman, a Nubian queen pointing the way toward a “glistening future.” It appears this paragon liked syrup, but given that the man has taken a post at a college in Vermont, isn’t sending whiffs of maple fragrance his way like batting coals in the direction of Newcastle?

Other, seemingly unconnected characters include a distrustful woman who fears radiation will waft into her apartment and her brother, an amiable habitué of Good Will stores who finds himself in repeated tussles over merchandise with a feisty, suitcase-toting woman who turns out to be Ruth’s ominous-hint-dropping sister, Thelma. The best, if also the craziest, of Greenidge’s creations is Nelson, a puppyish peeping Tom of a Caucasian janitor who imagines himself African-American and has co-opted Ruth’s husband’s ideas about black womanhood. Usually to be found in his supply closet being interviewed by an imaginary colleague, he’s caught up in a frenzy over the “roundness” of the tenant he’s pegged as his Nubian queen. To judge by her reaction, the image has about as much to do with female reality as the 19th-century, hair-piled-high Charles Dana Gibson ideal from which the play takes its title.

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