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A. M. Sunday

by Rich See

Secrets cause damage...unseen damage.
--- Helen

Ray Anthony Thomas and Johanna Day
R. A. Thomas and J. Day (Photo: Richard Anderson)

From the opening strains of the bluesy background music singing "God, look down and see my people through..." to the lonely whistle of a train and the forlorn barking of a dog, A.M. Sunday succeeds most as a cursory level view of an American family on the edge of oblivion. In thought it's a great idea for examination. What happens to inter-racial couples when their marriage dies? Do they feel a pressure to stay in the relationship due to a sense of duty in their belief that they should be free to love anyone they want, regardless of skin color? Is the demise of their relationship a statement of different backgrounds and almost an implied given? Is there an internalized race-conscious rant of "I told you this would never work out!" that crosses their minds?

Alas, A.M. Sunday has less to do with the complexities of race and more to do with what happens when one spouse is unfaithful and the rest of the family struggles to ignore the reality of what is going on around them. And in this instance, although Jerome Hairston always maintains an underlying sense of unwinding despair in his alternately humorous and touching writing, he never really moves beyond melodrama to give us any insight into the issues at work within a mix race couple. The character development is sketchy. The dialogue maddeningly starts and stops and too much of the same information is repeated without giving any new insights. We are shown only aspects of each character's motivations and needs. Although it's apparent that the entire family needs some therapy, no resolution is ever arrived at and we are left looking at a group of people and wondering why the story lines are not being more thoroughly interconnected. It's almost like each character is a separate play within a main play. And after sitting for an hour and a half, A.M. Sunday simply ends and the characters in the piece never seem to have grown. Traumatized, yes. Matured, no.

Director Marion McClinton has added some nice touches of symbolism to the piece. The train whistle, which filters in and out, is reminiscent of a call from the past, an echo of what once was, and the loneliness of how far away that reality is now. It also literally sings "Two people from different sides of the tracks." The intermittent dog barking is like a vocal knocking on the door saying "Let me in." Only, in this instance it's not who you think. However, McClinton has oddly chosen a spare, almost bare set, for a play whose characters are seemingly drowning in feelings of claustrophobia as their lives become disarrayed. With the dialogue full of stilted sentences, unfinished ideas and feelings, and constant bickering -- all of it giving the sense of claustrophobia -- the empty space on stage doesn't backup the actors in their attempts to convey any depth of feeling. Nor does it contribute to the sense of complete disintegration within the piece.

The actors shine with what they have been handed. Ray Anthony Thomas as R.P. the father and husband has the most difficult job. Jerome Hairston has not created a complex enough character for someone who is the key to the entire story. R.P.'s motivations are never examined or given voice. Instead Thomas' R.P. comes across as simply domineering while at the same time demanding his entire family be completely and totally sympathetic and understanding towards him. It's almost like Hairston had a great idea in R.P., but was uncertain how to proceed with the man.

Johanna Day excels as Helen, a woman whose life after 16 years is disintegrating even as she looks at it. Ms. Day slowly brings her emotions to the surface as she realizes the marriage, for which she gave up so much and endured such great pain to be in, is seemingly coming to an end.

JD Williams stands out as Jay, a young man who is growing up fast and discovering just how cruel the world can be. However, it seems odd that, in this play where his grandmother disowned his mother when she married his father, Jay would never realize he could be the object of racial prejudice until he was 15 years old.

The role of Denny, the family member who is aware of everything that is going on within the house, is played alternately by Massimo Angelo Delogu, Jr. and Sylk. This production featured Mr. Delogu, who does a fairly good job of bringing to life the most sensitive family member. However, one wonders why, in several scenes, director McClinton has not given him a prop to assist him in his delivery of lines. As the smallest cast member on a mainly bare stage he could use the assistance of creating visual space within and around him.

All in all, A.M. Sunday settles for melodrama and as someone in the theater noted as I left - it's like an episode out of Days of Our Lives. Probably not the comparison that playwright, director, or cast was seeking.

A. M. Sunday
by Jerome Hairston
Directed by Marion McClinton
with Massimo Angelo Delogu, Jr., Sylk, Ray Anthony Thomas, Johanna Day, JD Williams, Robyn Simpson
Set Design: David Gallo
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Costume Design: David Burdick
Sound Design: Shane Rettig
Running Time: 1 hours and 30 minutes with no intermission
Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore
Telephone: 410-332-0033
TUE - SAT @8, SAT - SUN @2, SUN @7:30; $15 - $55
Opening 11/13/03, closing 12/14/03
Reviewed by Rich See based on 11/23/03 performance

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