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Recess Lasts Too Long

Vanessa Stewart, Valerie Lewis, Randolph Smith, and Bisi Fagbohun in Outdoor Recess

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 5/9/2001

Outdoor Recess

Joy Jones

Some plays run in place. The characters are introduced, the themes are set up, and then the dialogue simply regurgitates the same few points. Joy Jones' Outdoor Recess is not a play that runs in place. Rather, it skips rope in place. Although Jones' play stalls during the final scenes of a too-long 75-minute first act and never fully picks up the pace in the second act, it's still easy to like. The same can be said for the Arena Players' production, directed by John Sadowsky.

The premise is contrived but effective. Sharon (Vanessa Stewart) and Earlene (Valerie Lewis) are two Washington, D.C., office workers who first meet outside their building while taking a break--hence the play's sense of adults taking a recess from their jobs. They also interact with a homeless man, Al (Randolph Smith), who factors into their wide-ranging discussions about gender and employment. Considering these three characters are strangers who happen to be loitering in front of the same building, they're engaging in highly personal conversations within a matter of seconds. They're also inclined to make some didactic pronouncements, which seem to be coming from the playwright's pen rather than from the characters' minds. Still, there is some enjoyable banter, as when workaholic Earlene berates perennially unemployed Al.

It turns out that Sharon and Earlene have more in common than they initially suppose. Specifically, they both loved to jump rope as kids. This becomes the central game (and metaphor) running--or, rather, jumping--through the rest of the play. It's an agreeable metaphor in stage terms, because we can watch them jump rope, recalling their carefree childhood days as they bond in their more troubled adult lives. A couple other women join them--a rapper, Roxy (Bisi Fagbohun), and a cop, Toni (Robin L. Gray)--and they create a team that gets written up in The Washington Post.

Jones' main scripting problem is that she establishes the basic situation and then takes her good old time in moving things toward any sort of resolution. Not only does the play dawdle but it's overtly preachy. Fortunately, the playwright has created characters you enjoy spending time with, and the performances bring them to life. But sometimes you wish everyone would just skip their speeches and skip rope.

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