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A number of years ago, an actor friend told me something that a director, whose work I had panned, once said of me. While it is true that one should avoid attempts at self-justification — you nearly always end up sounding classically over-defensive — before I weigh in on Night Beast, The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s opener for its The Theme Is Blackness: A Festival of Contemporary American Playwrights at Manbites Dog, I must beg something of a personal indulgence.
While I admit to finding pleasure in crafting a well-turned phrase, anyone who honestly believes I receive sadistic enjoyment critiquing the work of my theatrical peers knows nothing about me; as a playwright I’ve been on the receiving end of deliberate nastiness far too often to indulge in the practice myself. More to the point, this attitude presupposes that a reviewer is any different from a paying customer in wanting what he or she is about to experience to be a transporting, even transforming, event. In an ideal world, I would much prefer to spend my time, first being exhilarated and, later, shouting out the reasons from the rooftops. Knowing another human being may be wounded by my observations — even the most careful and considered of which I am capable — is simply not my idea of whoopee.
The foregoing because it pains me to say how much I disliked Night Beast. Because Ed Bullins is a writer who has labored for decades in something very like obscurity. Because black playwrights are still far less than well represented in American theatre. Because Jay O’Berski, who adapted Mr. Bullins’ unproduced screenplay and directed, is someone I like personally and whose talent I admire. Because Night Beast is my first experience of Little Green Pig. And because The Theme is Blackness festival is one eminently worthy of support.
I wish I did not have to state that I found the play thin, its action essentially inexplicable, its cast largely inadequate and its dialogue all too often flabby, unconvincing, and appallingly sexist when not actually risible. (Although I didn’t laugh at some of the play’s unintentional howlers, many in the audience did, and loudly.) I did admire Geraud Staton’s appropriately off-kilter set, the impressive and crucial video contributed by Alex Maness, Emily Hower’s rather terrifying puppets, the striking costumes of Chelsea Kurtzman, Gil Faison’s fine and aptly inscrutable performance as Stranger, and Mr. O’Berski’s swift and pungent staging. But I would rather be telling you that they were in support of a work whose depth and humanity moved me, and I can’t.
What the director I alluded to in my opening paragraph said to the mutual friend, who passed his remarks along to me, was this:
“That boy likes to hurt people.”
I am no longer, even remotely, a boy. And I did not enjoy this exercise. Not remotely.
This Festival of Contemporary Playwrights continues with Harriet Jacobs, running Novemebr 10-13. For details, see our calendar.