Spunk – An Atlanta Theater Fans Review

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Atlanta Theater, Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre

Tawana Lael and Bernardine Mitchell in Spunk. Photo by Joe Phillips

Surviving takes hard work – a lot of pain, blood, sweat and tears. Even then, through it all, there’s a joy and sense of hope that tomorrow could be better. These things provide Spunk, at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre, with the emotional thread it needs to create a compelling story about the human condition.

Written by George C. Wolfe, the play tells “tales of survival told in the key of blues” that are based on three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston. Told through narration and dialogue, the thematically tied stories have a musical interlude that not only separates the stories, but also comments on the underlying situation and emotions of them.

The first story called “Sweat” provides humor at times, but mostly the ironic scene opens the show with great intensity. As Delia, Cycerli Ash gives a heart breaking performance. As her husband, Brad Raymond creates a wonderful villain. His comedic moments work well without distracting from his devilish persona.

The middle story about two pimps in Harlem is humorous, but the plight of the characters is overshadowed by the humor and the one-upmanship of the characters. The final scene tells of a couple who endure hard times, but find hope by the end. The cast, which also includes Gilbert Glenn Brown, Tawana Lael, and Geoffrey D. Williams, play multiple roles and are memorable in each one.

The various tales are woven together with narration by Blues Speak Woman (Bernardine Mitchell) and Guitar Man (Theodis Ealey). Sometimes they use dialogue and at other times song to introduce the next set of characters. One unusual convention of the play is the use of third person narration by the actual characters themselves. It is a bit off putting at first, but as the production moves along, it becomes less noticeable.

The set, designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay works well with the director Hilda Willis’ staging,  Juel D. Lane’s choreography and the lighting design by Andre C. Allen. However, the music, under the Music Direction of S. Renee Clark takes center stage. Whether it is the amazing guitar work by Ealey, soulful vocals by Mitchell or the tight harmonies of the ensemble, the show’s sound conveys as much emotion as the characters themselves.

Directed by Hilda Willis, Spunk plays through October 13, 2013 at the 14th Street Playhouse. For tickets and more information, please visit Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre’s website. The show’s runtime is approximately two hours including an intermission.

– Kenny Norton