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Writing Wrongs

Despite Good Intentions, Brotha Is No Keeper

Belle Gaskin and Toby Anderson in the Spotlighters' Brotha

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 7/18/2001


James H. Chapmyn

Brotha, can you spare us the dime-store philosophy? James Chapmyn's play is proof that good intentions don't necessarily make for good drama. This Baltimore Playwrights Festival selection at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre ardently tackles a host of important issues within the African-American community, but its preachy dialogue amounts to checking off items on a list of societal woes.

The unmarried couple at the heart of the play, Hakeem (Toby Anderson) and Destiny (Belle Gaskin), have a troubled relationship. He's a drug dealer who enjoys the easy money, and the opportunity for macho strutting, his work provides. She's upright and hard-working, with a fast-food job and a head full of worries about what kind of example Hakeem is setting for their young son--if he doesn't get gunned down before he can serve as any kind of mentor for the boy.

Their conversations generally go as follows. Hakeem: "You're supposed to be my woman." Destiny: "I am your woman and I do love you." Such exchanges are so bluntly presented that there's no room for the nuance, ambiguity, or just plain quirky dialogue you hope to hear while watching a marital squabble. The situation is made worse by flat acting, as the performers are trapped within the playwright's paint-by-numbers script.

Chapmyn seems to realize that the totally predictable, naturalistic dialogue isn't enough to convey what's ticking inside this man and woman. So he gives each character periodic poetic monologues, in the self-expressive manner of the choreo-poems in Ntozake Shange's 1975 play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Chapmyn's poetry tends to strain for its effects, but at least it shows the playwright trying to find ways to animate his characters and their concerns. If director Melainie Eifert can rattle the two leads into giving livelier performances, it might be enough to make this faulty script come to life.

Things do perk up with the arrival of two more characters. Rita (Audra Lawson) is a friend of Destiny's who has had some unpleasant dealings with Hakeem and is sure to tangle with him when she shows up late in the first act. Rodney, aka Brotha (Jerome Banks-Bey), spends most of the first act talking to himself in a prison cell adjacent to the main staging area.

By Act 2, Brotha is out of stir and interacting with the other characters, leading to some explosive melodramatic developments, and Banks-Bey's emotional performance makes you sit up in your seat. Unfortunately, the second act rushes by in 35 minutes. Typical of the play's structural problems, Brotha races to make its final moral observations just when things are getting interesting.

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