Our hats are off to director Terra C. Hodge and producer Kenneth Hinton Sr. for this opener of the Agape Theatre Project’s second season: The Dance on Widow’s Row by North Carolina playwright Samm-Art Williams — a fast and frivolous farcical feast playing through Sunday, May 12th, at Burning Coal Theatre Company’s Murphey School Auditorium, near Historic Oakwood in Raleigh, NC.
In case you are wondering how a street could earn the name “Widow’s Row,” Burgaw, NC-born dramatist and screenwriter Samm-Art Williams soon lets us know that Fremont Street (in Port Town, NC) “has buried 20 husbands in the last 12 years.” And we get the pleasure of meeting four of the widows (who collectively have lost nine of these husbands). These women do not lack self-awareness. One of them remarks: “Some people in this town are afraid … we kill every man we touch.”
Magnolia (a delightfully animated Carmen Robin Marshall) has decided it’s time to get back in the Mating Game by hosting a party. She has invited three fellow widows and four eligible men who are “fully insured” and “the cream of the crop.” In case we fail to intuit just how determined she is, she puts away the portraits of her two deceased husbands, so that they will not be able to witness tonight’s events. (She tells one of them: “I gave you a good funeral, so we’re even.”)
The first widows to arrive are Bible-toting Annie and once-“famous” actress Simi. Aya Wallace plays Annie’s frumpishness and holier-than-thou attitude to the hilt; but we get the feeling that something else lurks within (“the lady doth protest too much, methinks”). And Jacquie Deas-Brown deftly convinces us that Simi is a no less than legend in her own mind. (Never mind that nobody else is aware of her fame; Deas-Brown convinces us that it doesn’t bother Simi.)
Lois (Pam Bond) rounds out the female foursome. Having lost two husbands to food-poisoning, she arrives with chicken wings and potato salad. Bond’s performance constantly reminds us to keep guessing about the details of her husbands’ deaths (and the possible fate of the men).
Deacon Hudson (Josh Henderson) and Newly (Juan Isler) are the next to arrive. Henderson and Isler make a smooth comedic duo. We quickly learn that Newly had to be pressured to join Deacon on this excursion: “I’m as scared as a chicken at a black picnic.” Yet both settle in nicely once they have arrived — provided nobody mentions “death” or “dying.” Isler repeatedly gets laughs as Newly demonstrates that he is spring-loaded to react to that subject.
Christopher Bailey’s Randolph is the last to arrive. He is proud that he saved money when he bought his $10 suit on sale, and Bailey projects a demeanor that an attitude like that typifies.
Director Terra Hodge has cast an excellent band of seasoned actors, wound them up, and let them strut their stuff. Pacing and timing are spot-on.
Williams’ script is rife with one-liners:
Two of the widows remark: “If I bury one more husband, I could get that new convertible Corvette.” And these women are not above getting catty with each other: “That’s not your hair”/ “Yes, it is, I have the receipt for it,” “You couldn’t get a date in a men’s prison,” and “lookin’ like Tina Turner on a budget.”
We hear the women and the men both refer to the women as “hors d’oeuvres.” And one of the women refers to “the swing in my backyard.”
Deacon Hudson wisely observes that women are smart, because they are “18 at birth and we don’t get to be 18 until we 40.”
Do these characters border on caricature? Yes. Do we object? No.
Do we get the feeling that we are the studio audience for a TV sitcom? Yes. Do we object? No.
Hodge and her actors know what they are doing, and the laughs seldom cease.
Juan Isler doubles as technical director, and Pam Bond doubles as costume designer. The set is a representation of what one would expect for a middle-class living room in down-east North Carolina. And the costumes are all character-specific. We were especially impressed by the choice to include both a green dress (green light) and a red dress (red light).
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- Burning Coal’s space is not the most hospitable to this set which would have fit better on a proscenium stage. There is a bit of clumsiness inherent in moving from the living room scenes to the front yard scenes, but it is only mildly distracting.
- Recorded sound effects seemed to emanate from an off-stage speaker rather than from somewhere on the set.
- One of the characters wears a dress that is frequently referred to as “short.” While the dress is tight, low-cut, and definitely sexy, the dirty-old-man on this reviewing team was a little disappointed that the hem rested only slightly above the knees.
If you like to laugh, plan on joining The Dance on Widow’s Row.
SECOND OPINION: May 1st Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/dance-widows-row/.
The Agape Theatre Project presents THE DANCE ON WIDOW’S ROW at 3 and 8 p.m. May 4, 3 p.m. May 5, 8 p.m. May 9 and 10, 3 and 8 p.m. May 11, and 3 p.m. May 12 in Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St. Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, presented as part of Burning Coal’s “Wait Til You See This!” second-stage series.
TICKETS: $20 in advance and $25 at the door, with group rates available.
BOX OFFICE: 919-957-9692 or https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-dance-on-widows-row-tickets-54315214268.
SHOW: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-dance-on-widows-row-tickets-54315214268 and https://www.facebook.com/events/607844619694330/.
PRESENTER: https://www.agapetheatreproject.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/ATPDurham/.
VENUE: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.
Samm-Art Williams (Burgaw, NC-born playwright and screenwriter): https://www.nclhof.org/inductees/2010-2/samm-art-williams/ (North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame), https://www.broadwayplaypub.com/play-authors/samm-art-williams/ (Broadway Play Publishing Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/5544 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/samm-art-williams-8587 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0931638/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samm-Art_Williams (</strong”>Wikipedia).
Terra C. Hodge (Durham, NC director and middle-school theater teacher at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, NC): http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/523029-terra-hodge (AboutTheArtists bio) and https://www.facebook.com/terra.hodge.7 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.