(Left)Dawn L. Troupe as Blues Speak Woman and Anthony Michael Peterson a.k.a. Tru as Guitar Man

(Right)L. Peter Callender as Slang Talk Man and Tyee Tilghman as Jelly in Cal Shakes’ SPUNK, directed by Patricia McGregor; photo by Kevin Berne.

SPUNK: Three tales by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted for the stage by George C. Wolfe with music by Chic Street Man (Tru) and directed by Patricia McGregor. California Shakespeare Theater, Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda. (510) 548-9666 or www.calshakes.org. July 7 -29, 2012


Before seven brilliant African-American actors take the stage to bring Zora Neale Hurston’s shot stories to life with a Word for Word type performance filled music and dance, Chic Street Man (Tru) on rear stage right platform warms up the crowd with riffs on his acoustic guitar encouraging audience participation. They loved it and you will also when you go to see this stunning show. Hopefully, the weather will be as perfect as it was on opening night.

This theatrical piece first appeared in 1991 and this production with local luminaries is a lyrical tribute to Huston’s trio of tales focusing on the African-American experience in the early 20th century in the rural South and Harlem. The stories are titled “Sweat”, “The Gilded Six Bit Piece” and "Story in Harlem Slang." Wolfe’s adaptation of the stories is bridged by song and dance featuring stunning, sexy powerful voiced Dawn L Troupe as the Blues Speak Woman accompanied by Tru and often joined by other cast members.

In “Sweat” Margo Hall wrings every ounce of pathos as Delia the abused wife of womanizer Sykes (L. Peter Callender). It is a gritty story of the developing strength of Delia who overcomes her subservience supporting Sykes through the sweat of her brow doing white folk’s laundry. Sykes’ vicious demeanor is palpable in Callender’s strong acting making him no better than the rattlesnake he uses to intimidate Delia. Long before the denouement, it is apparent that the snake will “attach’ itself to Sykes. The visceral tone of the story is lightened by jazzy musical interludes and the clever insertion of a porch scene of two black men commenting on the action and the rattlesnake appearing as an oversized puppet.

The second story "Story in Harlem Slang." lightens up the evening and is riotous when two Harlem “pimps” (in Harlem lingo means gigolos) one who has adopted the name of Jelly ‘cause Jam don’t shake like that’ (Tyee Tilghman) and Sweet Back (Aldo Billingslea) with the help of interloper Callender, all three decked out in Zoot suits (costumes by Callie Floor) while using jive talk and walking the walk (Paloma McGregor staged the dances). As they preen and strut and tell lies about their sexual prowess, they don’t have a dime between them. When they surround their ‘target’ (Omozé Idehenre) they meet their match and must get ready for the next mark.

In the finale of this engrossing evening Omozé Idehenre as Missie May and Aldo Billingslea as husband Joe give Tony Award winning performances in “The Gilded Six Bit Piece.” It is bittersweet tale of love, trust and redemption and you will never be able to un-wrap a Hersey candy Kiss without remembering the charming ending. Whereas the opening tale had a dark bitter basis this tale fits perfectly the lyrics of “Unforgettable” that is sung in the back ground. Before the evening ends director McGregor has inserted the jitterbug classic “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

The evening does not end at the conclusion of this must see production. On opening night, and every Friday night, the audience is invited onto the wide stage to dance under the guidance of Traci Bartlow.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com.