Back Stage West
June 1, 2011

The Emancipation of Alabaster
McGILL SkyPilot Theatre Company at T.U. Studios

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

Your claques may have the best intentions, but they always prove to be your enemies. On the night this play was reviewed, they shrieked and cackled from the back row of the small theater, while all in front of them--apparently including the actors--tried to hear dialogue, concentrate, and indeed think.

Their shenanigans took the high gloss off Jeff Goode's well-structured, ultrapolitical, and presumably fun play that brims with highbrow puns, lowbrow puns, and patent satire. The actors had trouble with timing and lost some of the lines to the raucous interruptions. Their volume, too, became almost unbearable. Or is it Eric Curtis Johnson's direction that allows the actors too much vocal intensity at the top of the play, leaving them nowhere to go but shouting as the action builds? The pacing, too, sank to a trudge during the second act, dulling the whole with a feeling of exhaustion.

What could be gleaned is the tale of a town on Jan. 1, 1863, as President Lincoln proclaims all American slaves free. On the front porch of slave smuggler Avner (James Sharpe), the clichéd types of small-town folk gather--including two young hicks (Brett Fleisher, Matt Valle), the half-witted deputy (Jude Evans), the pompous merchant (Frank Ensenberger), and the creepy deacon (Nathaniel Stanton). Not until the second act do we meet Alabaster (Arden Haywood), a now-former slave and the calm center of this maelstrom.

As some of the men pair off, interracial relations stand in for homosexuality. Goode's reductio ad absurdum storytelling has the men voting for or against marriage between a black man and a white man--to be known as "gray marriage"--as their knives of varying sizes are compared enviously, characters "come out" on the porch, and slippery slopes result only in suffering. The greatest pity here is that this smart script will probably preach to the choir. That is, assuming the back row will let the choir hear it.

Presented by SkyPilot Theatre Company at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. May 14-June 19. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 229-2753.