Le Wilhelm's The Hanging of Razor Brown is an exquisitely drawn miniature, both charming and chilling in its portrait of accepted prejudice, burgeoning senses of sexuality and responsibility, and the frustrations of a life wasted by the restrictions of all three.
The play takes place in Steinhatchee, Florida in 1918, on a brutally hot day that will see the execution of a Negro farmhand for a crime he did not commit. Genevieve LeCompte, the oh so proper mistress of a socially correct academy for young ladies, has allowed her students to picnic on the hill above the place of execution, and from that lofty position, she expounds endlessly on the proper place for women, men, and Negroes in that world. But of course, LeCompte is not as lofty or as principled as she would like herself to appear, and as her students, slowly but surely, begin to question her teachings, the stage is set for a fascinating study of hypocrisy, racism, and humanity.
Li Murillo's beautifully performed production was dreamlike in its perfection, the only snag in the proceedings being the use of an intermission that interrupted the rising line of tension so crucial to the piece. The performances were flawless, from Cynthia Granville's deliciously imperious LeCompte, Jessica Rider's hell-raising turn as the most rambunctious of her students, and Sybil Simone's genuinely moving performance as the wife of the condemned man, to Shawn Madsen's wonderfully fatuous young swain and Brian Reilly's swaggering villain, the man who holds the key to LeCompte.
In the way of sets and lights (Murillo, Madsen, and Leo Duran), much was done with very little - a few hanging leaves, a stone bench, and a doorway, lighted with amber shadows, perfectly captured the languorous air of dread and expectation of a humid Florida afternoon. The costumes (uncredited) were a mix of periods, but were nevertheless rich in color and detail and added to the atmosphere with an appropriately heavy hand.
At just over an hour long (including that unnecessary intermission), The Hanging of Razor Brown was a fascinating character study, lovely to look at, wonderfully acted, and almost endlessly intriguing in the questions it raised, some of them answered and some of them not.
(Also featuring Jennifer Kramer and Amy Milano)
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita