Sunday, November 2, 2008

Waitin’ 2 End Hell, Karamu House

(Saidah Mitchell and Joseph Primes as battling Diane and Dante)

Thank goodness God invented sex. Because if He hadn’t, someone else would have had to—just to get everyone’s minds off their damnably irritating personal relationships. It’s no secret that men and women, when living under the same roof, often get along together as well as ice cream and gravy. And that fact is made brutally clear in Waitin’ 2 End Hell, now at Karamu House.

This play, written unapologetically and often vibrantly in the African-American vernacular by William a. Parker, is a sometimes awkward blend of comedy and drama. And while the production often slips its gears due to glacial pacing, some of the actors still manage to register powerfully on stage.

All the action takes place in the casually elegant digs of married folks Diane and Dante, ad executive and parole officer respectively. Their kids are away as the couple enjoys part of their vacation with four friends who are sharing cake, champagne and their views on the relative roles of men and women in relationships.

The sparks start to fly as Dante claims that the man should be the CEO of the home, while Diane simmers. Soon Alvin and Larry side with Dante, joined by Alvin’s supportive wife Angela (Quianna Snyder). But sexy Shay is having none of it, spouting bile about her former husbands and claiming she’ll never put up with cohabitation again.

There is nothing particularly new or insightful about these collisions, which continue as Diane and Dante drift apart with every passing scene. Even when we learn the backstories of the other characters, it seems very familiar territory replete with messy breakups, pain-in-the-ass parents and serial affairs. But playwright Parker knows his subject matter and is able to come up with enough startling revelations, amusing (and often raunchy) observations, and plot twists to keep the audience either gasping or howling.

What doesn’t help is the slow tempo of many of the speeches, Even discounting the appearance at this performance of an understudy in the role of Larry, which slowed the play to a crawl at times, director Terrence Spivey allows his players to drift through many speeches as if they were floating aimlessly in a backyard pool instead of swirling towards the lip of a torrential waterfall.

Still, Joseph Primes as Dante scores repeatedly as a proud black man whose temper flares as quickly as his softer emotions bubble up to the surface. And Saidah Mitchell is quite believable as Diane, whose pride may even surpass her husband’s. Even thought their whipsaw reactions tend to get a bit forced, especially after Diane hooks up with Mark (Kenneth Parker) from her office and Dante loses, and then regains, his equilibrium with astonishing rapidity. But through it all, Primes and Mitchell furnish a strong foundation for the production.

Also good is Gregory White as Dante’s long time friend Alvin, trying his best to talk his buddy through the rocky shoals of his marriage. And Renata Napier is a bundle of rampant desire as Shay, a woman who freely admits her attraction to Dante in front of Diane and anyone else within earshot.

The lovely set design by John Konopka belies the psychological carnage that is taking place inside this home. And a much tighter ensemble performance could turn this material into a raging fire instead of a flickering, sporadic flame.

Waitin’ 2 End Hell
Through November 23 at
Karamu House, 2355 East 89th Street,
Cleveland, 216-795-7077

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