Playwright Clint Jefferies opened many eyes (and won an OOBR Award) with his impressive historical drama Tango Masculino at Wings Theatre a few seasons back. Now he has returned to the venue with an equally challenging history play, African Nights. While the current project may not be as compelling as Tango, it does offer a rare perspective into the privileged world of colonial Kenya, circa 1928, and is an eye-opening effort in its own right.
African Nights centers on a group of socialites (and a Prince) meeting and misbehaving during a weekend at a Happy Valley estate. As the program notes explained, Happy Valley was a place the idle rich called their playground. In fact, Jefferies seems to have done his homework, including many factual elements embellished with creative license. With the inclusion of rampant drug use, sexual promiscuity, and open homosexuality, the play makes it easy for modern audiences to relate to the after-dark activities. There are a few moments that seem a bit too contemporary for the time period, but for the most part, the historical content is consistent.
Director Jeffery Corrick added an exciting level of physical and intellectual tension to the piece, keeping viewers guessing as to who would end up with whom. The high point of these psychological games occured when the house servant Hassan (Antwan Ward) relates a tale of revenge that is a veiled threat to one of the guests. Ward's mischievous monolog was devilishly delivered, and was greeted with rousing applause at the performance attended.
The rest of the talented cast members also provided an effective portrait of turn-of-the-century colonial life. Bekka Lindstrom anchored the ensemble as the hostess, Lady Idina Erroll, who seemed completely self-sufficient and independent. Joel Halpern played her frustrated suitor Major Robert Effington, who himself is married to a less-than-satisfied spouse, portrayed by Sheri Delaine. Karen Stanion was the perfect party girl, who continually supplies drug-filled needles and vials of powder to her fellow guests. As the male visitors who attempt to fight their urges for one another, Nick Marcotti, JoHary Ramos, and Ed Roggenkamp maintained a level of dignity while giving in to their testosterone-fueled hormones.
The technical team does a great job of recreating the time period while evoking a world where fantasy and reality collide. Robert Monaco's sensuous sunroom setting, Sean Linehan's luminous light scheme, and Tom Claypool's seductive costumes prepared viewers for this risqué, romantic adventure ahead. Fight choreography by Kymberli Morris let the characters tussle convincingly while keeping the actors safe.
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Copyright 2004 Elias Stimac