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A CurtainUp DC Review
Inns and Outs

by Susan Davidson

Inns and Outs may have its ups and downs but all in all Caleen Sinnette Jennings's newest play is a winner.  The setting is a seaside hotel, a marker of sorts for some of the characters who check in during the course of this evening's entertainment, and the characters, mostly African Americans, are middle class. 

Inns has five very short acts or long scenes depending on how you count, all set in the same hotel room.  Not entirely a new device for playwrights (think of Plaza Suite, Same Time Next Year) but an effective one.  

Act One takes place over Memorial Day weekend.   A middle aged man and middle aged woman check in.  Both are more accomplished in their careers than in their love life.  His intentions may be honorable  but his efforts at seduction are thwarted.  Their toast to the future brings up the question of how to achieve balance in one's private life while striving (and succeeding) professionally. 

Independence Day weekend brings to the hotel a couple who are about to split up and her mother whose expectant hopes for the couple lie elsewhere.  Of the five parts of Inns, this sketch is the most labored, heavy handed, possibly because it is hard to believe that a couple who have grown apart would split so amicably. 

Labor Day has to do with work - get it?  -- how two breadwinners (one black, one white) earned their living and how their wives having raised their children together, now the kids are grown and gone, share confidences over cards. The talk gets serious at one point as jealousies and fears surface but, as with all parts of Inns and Outs, the ending is happier. 

Christmas brings sadness and loneliness for three characters whose families are, for one reason or another, absent.  A sad vignette, probably the weakest and least believable of the sketches, but even here the message is one of faith and redemption.  Scott Fortune plays the grieving husband with enormous pathos and understanding.  Tired of having everyone count on her to organize and prepare for the annual New Year's Eve party, Beverly Cosham, as the matriarch of a large, extended family, is very funny. Garbed in robe and blindfold, never too far from a bottle of bubbly, this lady has had enough.  Or so she thinks until a conversation with the room maid makes her think again about those she loves and how lonely she feels without them. Fear not, a happy ending is ensured. 

A word about the direction:   while some of the actors are better than others, the direction by Lisa Rose Middleton is consistently excellent. She gets the most out of the script (which could use a bit of trimming, not much, just a bit), and her players.  Even the scene changes are deftly carried out. Actors playing room maids take away the detritus of one scene only to "make up the room" for the next.  Middleton has them do little bits of business, not much, just a bit, that are integral to the play and clever.  Jordana Adelman's set, Elizabeth Baldwin's props, Dan Covey's lighting, Susan Chiang's costumes, and David Lamont Wilson's sound are all well chosen. 

Although some will find Inns and Outs somewhat cute, in a Cosby Show sort of way, its author Caleen Sinnette Jennings writes well about her milieu - middle aged, middle class African Americans, their white counterparts, and the interaction a social level between the generations as well as races.  Hers are very real people leading normal lives, subjected to normal, conventional events.  And as such they are refreshing. 

Jennings who teaches drama at American University has written more than fifty plays.  Inns and Outs is a winner of a grant from the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays, and a previous production, of Jennings's Playing Juliet/Casting Othello, was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award a season or two ago.  The latter (which I unfortunately did not see) is considered the better play which makes me think that Jennings has not only an enviable past record of good work but the promise of more to come.  
by Caleen Sinnette Jennings 

Directed by Lisa Rose Middleton 
with Doug Brown, Strawberry Catubo, Lynn Chavis, Beverly Cosham, Scott Leonard Fortune, Stephanie Johnson, Jewell Robinson, Gary Telles, and David Lamont Wilson. 
Set Design:  Jordana Adelman 
Lighting Design:  Dan Covey 
Costume Design:  Susan Chiang 
Sound Design:  David Lamont Wilson 
Running time:  2 hours and 20 minutes 
Source Theatre, 1835 14th St., NW (202) 462-1073 
Opened December 1, 1999; closes January 2, 2000. 
Reviewed by Susan Davidson 12/13/99, based on a 12/12 matinee performance 
©Copyright 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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