Friday, August 31, 2007

Review – One Nation Under (At Hand Theatre Company)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Andrea Lepcio’s One Nation Under is a rare treat: a traditional tragedy told in a way that will reach a modern audience. With a cast of talented actors and crackerjack directing by Tye Blue, it provides an exciting and satisfying evening of theatre.

One Nation Under tells the story of Arlene Stanton (Adrienne Hurd), a judge on the fast track to the Supreme Court. Shepherding her through the process is Wesley Hanna (Peter Reznikoff), a conservative Svengali with the President’s ear. When Eric (Christopher Abbott), Arlene’s layabout son, announces that he has taken a job with Haliburton in Iraq, Arlene allows Wesley to pull some strings in order to keep him safe. Because of that action, Arlene’s family and her law clerk, Quinta (Toks Olagundoye) become involved with the young Reservist from the Bronx who has been assigned to protect Eric, Darcee Washington (J’nelle Bobb-Semple), her son Chester (also played by Bobb-Semple during an extremely moving epilogue), and sister Lilifrieda (Chrystal Stone), a streetwise woman who will do anything to protect her family. Since this is a tragedy, it’s clear that no one makes it through unscathed.

There are any number of things to praise about this production. Andrea Lepcio’s script is tight and well-written. In a very short time it manages to deal with race, sexuality, class struggles, and politics - national, international, and family. Director Tye Blue keeps the pacing of the play interesting, never letting the it lag, but allowing moments of stillness that make the faster-paced scenes that much more effective. In addition, Blue makes excellent use of the stage, a simple but effective set designed by Nathan Elsener.

The company is impressive, with special praise going to Chrystal Stone, Christopher Abbott and J’nelle Bobb-Semple, all of whom are outstanding in their roles. Toks Olagundoye as the uptight law clerk, Quinta, manages to have some of the most humorous moments in the play, her tentative flirtation with Lilifrieda, as well as some of the most poignant, her loss of faith in Judge Stanton and what she stands for. Adrienne Hurd is impressive as Judge Stanton, especially in her scenes with Abbott. Peter Reznikoff hits all the right notes as the genial, but dangerous, conservative powerbroker. One part of Wesley’s character doesn’t ring true, that is his romantic pursuit of the judge in the latter part of the play. This is not Reznikoff’s problem, in fact, he gives it his all, but rather a problem with Lepcio’s script. While it’s not unreasonable to expect a man like Hanna to fall for a strong, self-assured woman like Arlene, the speed with which it happens and the proprietary way with which he treats her at the end of the play seems to come out of nowhere.

This minor hiccup aside, One Nation Under is an excellent, well-produced play. Though I did not see At Hand’s previous production, POP!, if One Nation Under is any indication, this is definitely a theatre company to watch out for.

Written by Andrea Lepcio
Directed by Tye Blue
Costume Design: Michelle Andre
Assistant Costume Design: Bianca DiPietro
Scenic Design: Nathan Elsener
Asst. Scenic Design: Liz Schurra
Sound Designer: Nathan Leigh
Lighting Design: Josh Starr
Asst. Lighting Design: Lauren Madden
Stage Manager: Sarah Ripper
Dramaturg: amy freeman
Production Manager: Marty Strenczewilk
Press/Marketing: Daniel Horrigan
Press Agent: Stephen Sunderlin
Business Manger: Meghan Strenczewilk
Wig Design (Arlene): Armando Corral
Photographer: Salma Khalil

Featuring Adrienne Hurd (Arlene Stanton), Peter Reznikoff (Wesley Hanna/The Help), Toks Olagundoye (Quinta Maxwell), Christopher Abbott (Eric Stanton), J’nelle Bobb-Semple (Darcee/Chester Washington/The Help), Chrystal Stone (Lilifrieda Day/The Help)

Medicine Show Theatre
549 W. 52nd Street

Closed: Sunday August 26th