Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lower Ninth

Photo/Joan Marcus

Beau Willimon's uneven new play, Lower Ninth, suffers from a refusal to confront its circumstance -- an estranged father and son, trapped on a rooftop after Hurricane Katrina. The design, direction, and acting reduce the high stakes to jokes and melodrama; the play itself is a good look at two characters struggling to stay afloat in a sea of anger. James McDaniel, when he's not proselytizing, is utterly engaging as Malcolm, a reformed street tough who -- though he now uses his knife to cut oranges -- still has a knife, and an edge. Gaius Charles, who plays his son, Ezekiel (aka E-Z), suffers from television-actor-syndrome, and often plays to the audience rather than Mr. McDaniel, but seems otherwise legit as a troubled teen who doesn't fit in with the good or bad kids. But the real trouble comes from Lowboy: not the actor, Gbenga Akinnagbe, basically playing a softer side of his character on The Wire, but the character, who is admittedly worm-food, and whose revival is just a redundancy for what we already know about Malcolm and E-Z. There's humor and truth, but very little drama, and that's because nobody acknowledges -- in a serious way -- that these two men have been left for dead in an river of oil and corpses. I watched Lower Ninth, but at no point did I ever feel as if I -- or they -- were really in New Orleans; it was like being a tourist who keeps his head buried in the guidebook the whole time.

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