WAITING FOR GIOVANNI world premiere at NCTC San Francisco

(L) Wm. Hunter and Liam Hugh as the Fictional Giovanni behind the scrim. (Above l to r) Desiree Rogers as Lorraine Hansberry, Wm. Hunter as "Jimmy" Baldwin and Fred Pitts as Richard Wright.

WAITING FOR GIOVANNI: A Dream Play by Jewelle Gomez in collaboration with Harry Waters Jr. At The New Conservatory Theatre Center, (Decker Theatre), in conjunction with AfroSolo Theatre Company, at 25 Van Ness Ave. near Market St., San Francisco, 94102. (415) 861-8972, or online at www.nctcsf.org.

August 19 – September 18, 2011.

Every generation needs its heroes/idols and this holds true for individual ethnic groups. For the African-Americans in the 1950s and 60s three idols were Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin. They are all famous writers and were leaders within the civil rights movement. Although all are characters in Jewelle Gomez’s Waiting for Giovanni playing at the New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC), she has elected to spotlight the Harlem born conflict torn James Baldwin as the protagonist.

In this world premiere production in association with AfroSolo Arts Festival and director Harry Waters Jr., realism intertwines with memory and fantasy as Baldwin’s inner turmoil foments leading to unpopular decisions. The “waiting” in the title has dual meaning being the title of his second book, and waiting for the publication that is unlikely to be well received after his seminal Go Tell it to the Mountain.

It all begins with Wm. Hunter, who bears a startling facial likeness to Baldwin, sitting at a small typewriter table down-stage center: “In the beginning there was the word.” Not “the word” of religion espoused by his hypocritical preacher father, but his words that become reality on the printed page. Richard Wright (Fred Pitts) and Loraine Hansberry (Desiree Rogers) insist that he mute his open homosexuality and continue on a path appropriate to the movement. This is his stumbling block: should he remain true to himself and love or give up his popular social justice essays published in main stream magazines that provide him with his income. Then too, how could a black man write about two white homosexuals living a flawed life in Paris that is the subject of “the Giovanni” book.

Gomez’s language is at times poetic and at other times mundane and repetitious. Hunter is superb as he mingles and spars with his French lover Luc( William Giammona), Wright and Hansberry. Desiree Rogers invests her role with sentimental strength contrasting the visceral anger written into Fred Pitts’ powerful Richard Wright. The fictional Giovanni (Liam Hughs) hovers throughout the evening, mostly nude, behind an ethereal scrim and materializes gently imploring Baldwin to give him life by allowing publication of the book.

The handsome abstract set by Kuo-Hao Lo is ideal for this dream play but Water’s direction does not take full advantage of it with his pedestrian direction that is further undermined by the uneven acting of the lesser characters. That being said, the audience gave the show a somewhat standing ovation. Running time less than two hours with intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com