Parker, TK Korlie, and Jonathan Mahone, these three characters are as sassy and full of themselves as anyone that age can be. When Oscar suggests they bunk school and visit the museum across the street, because of the cafeteria’s two-pound burritos, they don’t realize what they have in store for them.
They are greeted at the door by a curator, Amina (Ghislaine Jean-Mahone), who thinks they’ve been selected for her special tour, and she leads them through various works of art with which she thinks they will “connect.” The first is the Charles Cordier sculpture African Venus, and when Amina senses their indifference to it, she lays down a rap that grabs their attention and respect.
The high-schoolers follow her through the museum (these are art works at the RISD Museum), looking at two pieces by Jacob Lawrence and a photograph by Andy Warhol of the dogs attacking Civil Rights demonstrators in the ’60s. Each of these provokes a reaction or a memory. In one extended routine, the four actors question how a middle-class white person could possibly comprehend a daily life of no jobs, no garbage pick-ups, closed libraries, ragged sneakers, barely putting food on the table, etc., concluding with “you don’t care because you don’t have to care.”
That anger is matched by their anguish when they contemplate the slave-era silhouettes of Kara Walker. In a dark, red-tinged light, they recite a poem in four parts, whose refrain — “they told me that this river was safe” — builds in meaning and intensity as their voices hold onto the emotion of the stories they tell. It’s a very powerful and haunting moment, excellently performed.
In the second act, Kim, Oscar, and Robby return to school to discover that seven students were rounded up by the cops the previous day. Stunned, they wonder what they can do and, as they try to find out exactly what happened, they encounter various members of their community, many familiar to In House Freestyle audiences: Disco Sisko, the frugal pimp; Cliff, one of the three old “granddaddies”; Marshal and Smittie, two white cops on the Broad Street beat; Tameka “The Teacher,” an 18-year-old rabble-rouser and reader of Khalil Gibran; and Willis, her strong but silent sidekick.
Each of the In House crew has his or her moment to shine, and each is completely grounded in the characters he or she portrays. Jean-Mahone, as Tameka, however, is hands-down hilarious, when she begins to snow the announcer at the neighborhood block party with a string of unstoppable words. Mahone, as Willis, is her comic foil, nodding sagely and gesturing with just one hand to underscore her points. Tameka has one of the signature lines of the play, when she declares, “I may be young, but I deserve a chance to be respected.”
Korlie has great comedic timing and gestures in the two scenes as Marshal, the cop. Parker has the more serious roles here, with Robby getting hassled by the cops or thinking back to selling drugs. The acting from both is impressive.
Other characters from the neighborhood, including the singing Harris sisters, a Jamaican/Nigerian couple, and three people in a TV ad for chitlins, are conveyed by Marlon Carey, Amos Hamrick, Chandra Harris, Satta Jallah, and Jason Quinn. They are also very convincing in their roles.
Connect was written by Jean-Mahone and directed by Raffini. Commissioned last summer by the RISD Museum, the play tackles difficult political, social, and economic issues right here in L’il Rhody, through a variety of comic techniques and dramatic ones. And though the show still feels more like a revue than a play, it accomplishes its goal to “connect” on many levels.
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