Saturday, March 10, 2018

Powerful Themes of 'Hang Man' Fail to Overcome Stylistic Absurdity -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Hang Man
a world premiere play
by Stacy Osei-Kuffour
directed by Jess McLeod
Gift Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 29

As Hang Man opens, set in--per the program--"a shit town in Mississippi," a black man is hanging from a tree.

Later learning that his name is Darnell (and wonderfully embodied by Gregory Fenner), we certainly presume him to be dead.

But given the absurdist leanings of the world premiere play by Stacy Osei-Kuffour--directed at Gift Theatre by Jess McLeod--of this we are soon made less than fully certain.

Though hung in a noose--at whose hand, including possibly his own, is unclear--Darnell talks to the audience, as well as to characters within the 80-minute one-act play.

And while there is inherent thematic power as Darnell is discovered by townfolk, initially by a couple in coitus--Margarie (Angela Morris) and Archie (Paul D'Addario)--I had trouble getting much out of the play beyond the obvious. 

Photo credit on all: Claire Demos
Clearly, Osei-Kuffour--a Chicago area native who studied at NYU and Hunter College and now writes for TV in L.A.--is trying some new approaches to address racism, as exemplified through both bigotry and ignorance.

But while there is plenty of good acting onstage, including by young Mariah Sydnei Gordon(?) as G--Darnell's loving niece--the white townsfolk, including Margarie, Archie and another of her suitors, a junior police officer named Wipp (Andy Fleischer), feel more like dimwitted caricatures than real people. 

Perhaps that's the point, as Sage (Jennifer Glasse)--who is G's mother and Darnell's sister--and Jahaad (Martel Manning), a black Muslim in town with hopes of collecting money Darnell owes him, are far more sympathetic. 

Admittedly, I don't often acclimate well to absurdity or surrealism onstage. 

Some patrons on opening night seemed to love Hang Man and I wouldn't question their affinity.

Certainly, parts of Osei-Kuffour's writing seemed sharp, with some humorous moments and some grim ones. 

But while wishing nothing but good things for the playwright, a very pleasant young woman who was in attendance on Thursday, in sum I didn't find Hang Man all that riveting or moving. 

Stupidity obviously infuses much racism, and I guess the largely banal actions of simple white folk upon discovering a possible lynching in their midst bespeaks this.

And while winding up in some weird directions, the compassion of one character is at least somewhat touching.

But in terms of much true enlightenment about the human condition and our racial divides, this well-intended, well-acted 80-minute one-act really just left me hanging.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Hanging around absurdist rope a dope.