Except for the barnyard language, Raleigh Little Theatre’s world-premiere production of Burgaw, NC, dramatist and Tony Award® nominee Samm-Art Williams’ latest comedy/drama, The Waiting Room, is like something that you might see any night of the week on the WB. It is a sitcom with some serious overtones, but the characters are stereotypes.
Riley Innes (Lester Hill) is the Angry Young Black Man, a married Greensboro restaurateur who rushes to his hometown of Evergreen when his (unseen) father Pullen has a major heart attack that leaves him at death’s door. Patrick “Uncle Pat” Innes (Róderick Shépard) is the Horny Old Goat, an aging but outspoken tobacco/soybean farmer and proud African-American Republican who hasn’t quite sown his last wild oat yet. Jesse Innes “Aunt Jessie” Lucas (LaDawna Akins) is Uncle Big Mouth’s Sternly Disapproving Sister, who finds Pat’s intemperate comments and shameless flirtations with younger women increasingly irritating.
Hannah Blake (Hazel S. Edmund) is the Good Girl, a pretty and highly competent nurse at the hospital who may be a Bad Girl if she can catch the eye of her self-righteous former high-school classmate Riley, on whom she had—and still has—a monster crush. Cookie Whittaker (Rená Tago Hicks) is the town Jezebel, overweight and oversexed and hot to trot with Uncle Pat or any other man who shows her the slightest attention. Gordon and Casey MacInnes (Samuel Mozley and J. Scott Enroughty) are father and son Rednecks with a capital R—Gordon even shows up in the waiting room in a black t-shirt with a big Confederate battle flag emblazoned on his chest—who happen to be Innes family friends; and Rachael Wilson (LaKeisha Coffey) is an Angry Young Black Woman, whose purpose in the play seems to be to bristle at Uncle Big Mouth’s jibes.
RLT guest director Fred Motley smoothly combines these familiar ingredients to make an entertaining (if unpolished) production. Some of the performers are so much stronger than others that the drop-off in acting ability and experience is even more noticeable. Consummate comedian Róderick Shépard is a pip as Uncle Pat, a crusty old curmudgeon with an eye for ladies who might be amenable to his amorous overtures; and Lester Hill is good—if sometimes a bit stiff and overly earnest—as the super-sensitive Riley, who tends to strike out as others as all the Innes family skeletons come tumbling out of the proverbial closet in the tense hospital waiting room that serves as a crucible for Samm-Art Williams’ comedy/drama.
Hazel Edmund gives a pleasant performance as Hannah; and LaDawna Akins is suitably self-righteous—if a little stiff—as Aunt Jesse. Samuel Mozley is a scream as Gordon the Unreconstructed Confederate and predictable target of Riley’s ire; but Scott Enroughty is a bit wooden and self-conscious as college-educated Casey, whose lines include a poetic rhapsody that Enroughty cannot begin to make sound convincing.
Rená Hicks is tentative and no more persuasive as Cookie; and LaKeisha Coffey gives a one-note performance as Rachael, who has little more to do than jump when Uncle Pat pushes one of her hot buttons.
Scenic and lighting designer Rick Young’s beautifully designed set for The Waiting Room feels authentic right down to the last dog-eared, out-of-date magazine and framed vintage Norman Rockwell prints on the walls; and costume designer JeMarl Kearney skillfully outfits the cast in attire that provides clues to their essential character.
Despite the unevenness of the acting, the current RLT presentation of The Waiting Room nevertheless gave last Sunday’s matinee audience its money’s-worth, judging from their enthusiastic response. The plot may only be of sitcom quality, but the laughs are real, especially when Róderick Shépard as Uncle Pat is raising the blood pressure of all the other characters to life-threatening levels.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Waiting Room Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 14-16 and 21-23, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 17 and 24, at 3 p.m. in RLT’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue Street, Raleigh, North Carolina. $15 ($13 students and seniors 62+) Thursday, Friday, and Sunday matinee and $17 Saturday. 919-821-3111 or etix via the presenters' site. Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and there will be assistive listening devices available for all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/performances/waitingroom.html [inactive 7/07]. Samm-Art Williams: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=8587 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0931638/ (Internet Movie Database).