The world premiere comedy with music, Sheddin’, by playwright and actor Thomas W. Jones II, playing at the Horizon Theatre, is as familiar and refreshing on a summer evening as a cool drink of water, but, like water, can sometimes leave you wanting something more. While the characters are drawn from those of soothingly clichéd pop culture stock, their sincerity and emotional honesty can simultaneously unnerve and sooth you, but Jones has packed so many themes and complexities into the show, that only a few ever feel fully resolved.
The play, a sequel of sorts to Jones’ A Cool Drink of Water, which played the Horizon in 2009, tells the story of Walt Young Jr. (Jones) and his family and friends, as they welcome home his son Trane (Enoch King), after a year touring Europe as a successful hip-hop artist. Walt and his friends, slow-witted, “functioning alcoholic”
Otis (LaParee Young) and enlightened intellectual Moses (E. Roger Mitchell), calling themselves, the Men of Distinction, have cooked up a funky old-school R&B routine in hopes of becoming Trane’s opening-act when he starts his American tour at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. These hopes are quickly dashed as Trane arrives with his new fiancé/opening-act, eccentric Korean pop-star, E’Boa (Francesca McKenzie). The strongest voice of reason amongst the emotional chaos which ensues is Walt’s wife of over 30 years, Ruthie; Donna Biscoe plays the Young family matriarch with the loving heart and firm hand that all good mothers have. The ensemble as a whole is exceptionally tight, as each actor takes a turn balancing the show’s off-the-wall comedy and heart-wrenching drama.
Directed by Bruce A. Young, Jones’ rapid-fire, often hyper-intellectual dialogue relies heavily on references and conventions found throughout popular culture. With allusions to Shakespeare, The Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun, and everything in between, the dialogue seems like a conversation that could happen in the backyard of any of the Little Five Points homes that surround the theater.
Additionally, the broadly drawn archetypal characters and many of the one-line jokes seemingly could have appeared in almost any sit-com from the past 30 years. While one might think that this familiar format, which can become tedious even in a half-hour format, might wear out its welcome in a 2 hour and 15 minute play, Jones adds so many nuanced layers to the stories and characters that each new turn brings us further into this family’s inner-circle.
However, this also leads to the one issue that prevents the audience from becoming fully engrossed in the drama. In every layer and with every plot turn, Jones seems to be adding another theme for the audience to ponder, but very few are ever intellectually or emotionally satisfied. He asks us to contemplate issues of truths, both spoken and hidden, lies, both humorous and hurtful, traditional vs. modern generational battles, and the emotional impact of dreams deferred. Each is compelling and deserves a resolution, but very few receive one.
The entire play takes place in the Youngs’ Atlanta back yard, meticulously designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay. The original songs composed by Music Director S. Renée Clark fit seamlessly into the script’s cross-generational pop culture tapestry. Jones also serves as the show’s choreographer.
While A Cool Drink of Water sets the stage for Sheddin’, the latter is still extremely entertaining, even if you haven’t seen the former.
Sheddin’ runs through August 19th at the Horizon Theatre in Atlanta. For tickets visit HorizonTheatre.com or call 404-584-7450.
– Matt Tamanini