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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Artney Jackson

Everybody in this world don't have a father. You got one who loves you. — Artney
Ray Anthony Johnson as the title character Artney Jackson
Ray Anthony Thomas as Artney is a solid man with a strong moral compass who enjoys the respect of his fellow workers in spite of age differences. The only blip in his life is the father-son dissension that rocks his every action with A.J. (Michael Braugher) who also works at the center. Thirty year old A.J. has psychological issues but longs for independence, while Artney, a concerned widower and father, does not have the wherewithal to trust his son's decisions.

Braugher's handsome demeanor changes chameleon-like when he and his father spar over A.J.'s future. Thomas's charismatic Artney captures the audience's sympathy with a winning smile, sense of humor and emotional honesty.

This is one of several plot lines that author James Anthony Tyler weaves together to form a multi-layered and ultimately satisfying story of working class African-Americans who manage to live with dignity and take pride in keeping their world afloat and bills paid. In spite of a callous corporation whose policies interject an element of uncertainty, as their paychecks allow for little wiggle room in the face of crises, these workers continue to hold together the underpinnings of the work-a-day world.

The actress known as Portia is the warm-hearted earth mother Jackie Zinner, who tries to housebreak the younger men of the office and teach them manners and empathy. She possesses an inherent wit and humorous linguistic persona which drives the interplay among her co-workers. Both the actress and the character's sincerity command the stage whether she is employing considerable comedic talents in the break room banter or confessing to a life-changing personal crisis.

Joshua Boone as Perkins is the cocky office scamp whose strut and braggadocio conceal a secret insecurity. Boone's performance last summer in Where Storms are Born was edgy and riveting. Again, his stage presence and characterization is excellent. He is able to balance the facade of an intelligent yet ingenuous young man with explosive emotional undercurrents. Perkins' childlike neediness hints at a kid who has had to enter and survive the adult world too early.

Christopher Livingston as Zaahir has graduated from Morehouse College and views this job as an entry level position. He has other plans for himself and though he is friendly with Perkins he makes it obvious that they do not share social equality. Livingston plays Zaahir as a charming but shy boy/man who still lives at home and is tentative around girls. Both young actors add a playful quality to the workplace and rise to greater heights when challenges are presented .

Alfie Fuller's Rhonda Simpson is the chirpy manager who flounces on stage with teeth-grinding upbeat positivism. "A company woman" she walks the fine line between bolstering her "team" to do well and expressing loyalty to the higher-ups no matter what the corporate decisions. She can be, by turns, sympathetic and self-protective; the workers are suspicious of her motives, yet want to trust that she has their best interests in mind. Fuller keeps us guessing and creates a complicated self-aware Rhonda – likable but always aware of the bottom line.

Director Laura Savia moves the actors on this small simple set with the glass sliding door in a way that keeps us waiting for the next complication as each story is revealed . Over the course of one week everyone will have to face one or several dilemmas which cause friction and discomfort. Savia keeps the actors' pace and energy levels under control and believable. The actors' professional self-awareness drives the story to its somewhat expected yet necessary conclusion.

Arnulfo Maldonado's spotless and colorful work place is well-lit by Isabella Byrd's realistic bright office place lighting. Emilio Sosa's costumes emphasize the characters' personalities, while Stowe Nelson's sound design sets the mood changes and inner conflicts.

James Anthony Tyler's talent lies with creating characters who tell us their stories with humanity and truth. We hope that his work becomes a mainstay of the Berkshire region as he hones his skills. <

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Artney Jackson by James Anthony Tyler
Directed by Laura Savia
Cast: Ray Anthony Thomas (Artney Jackson) Michael Braugher (A.J. - Artney Jackson, Jr.) Portia (Jackie Zinner) Joshua Boone (Perkins Howard) Christopher Livingston (Zaahir Baldwin) Alfie Fuller (Rhonda Simpson)
Scene design: Arnulfo Maldonado
Costume design: Emilio Sosa
Lighting design: Isabella Byrd
Sound Design: Stowe Nelson
Stage Manager: Lloyd Davis, Jr.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Williamson Theatre Festival, Nikos Stage, Williamstown, MA
From 7/11/18; closing 7/22/18
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 14, 2018 performance

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