3/30/2019        ANGRY, RAUCOUS, AND SHAMELESSLY GORGEOUS                         Alliance Theatre

 

****½  ( A ) 

 

PASSING THE TORCH

Anna Campbell is NOT going gently.

An actress "of a certain age" (and of a definite infamy), she has spent the last twenty years as an exile, essentially "kicked out of America" (in her view) for daring to perform, in the nude,  a series of August Wilson monologues, written for men.   (Why should only men be allowed to utter those exquisite words?) Now, unable to get the classical roles for which she longs (she is offered the Nurse in Medea, when she would have soared as Medea herself), she has come back to Atlanta to receive an award and to revive her "Naked Wilson" for an outdoor festival.

Except her manager (and best friend) has failed to let her know she is not actually performing.

And her producer has failed to let her know that the only "actress" available (and willing) to perform is an exotic dancer and "internet porn supporting actress."

And the weather is failing to cooperate as gallons of rain soak the park and venue.

And even August Wilson's ghost may have a thing or two to add to the proceedings
 

Such is the set up for Pearl Cleage's newest, Angry, Raucous,and Shamelessly Gorgeous, the second production to grace the Alliance's new Coca-Cola Stage, and it is glorious.  In the span of ninety fast-paced minutes, Ms. Cleage has managed to capture the world of a woman in a profession that does not suffer aging gladly (especially aging women), that brutalizes artistic bravery, that will not tolerate any criticism of its icons ("Naked Wilson?"  SACRILEGE!), that recognizes merit only in the past.  It is a vivid portrait of a profession that tends to "eat its young" and "embalm its elders" -- if elders are even allowed to exist.

And it's a vivid portrait of two friends, coming to terms with their status, finding their way through the contrasting minefields of ego and affection.  It's also an elegant ode to regret, to bravery, and to steadfastly refusing to "age gracefully."

Four compelling actresses with out-sized talents inhabit Colette Pollard's impressive set, an upscale suite provided for Ms. Campbell and her companion.  Terry Burrell (Ethel, Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill, Hospice) is a moving and compelling Anna, filled with passion and talent, blind-sided by the efforts of her friends to shield her from the realities "on the ground."  Marva Hicks is also memorable as Betty, Anna's manager and friend.  Ericka Ratcliff commands the stage as Pete ("Precious"), the young dancer whose fiery ambition eventually wins Anna's respect.  And Je Nie Fleming completes the cast as Kate, the Producer who loves the idea of a "Naked Wilson" revival, if not the idea of a woman of Anna's age doing it naked.

Susan V.  Booth directs with her usual affinity for character and ensemble, using every inch of the stage to maximum affect.

I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again:  Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta treasure -- a NATIONAL treasure.  She writes characters that pop off the page and seemingly spring to life fully formed.  Her women are multi-dimensional, likable even when not being very likable, filled with a full palette of reaction, emotion, and idiosyncrasy.  Her scripts are always dynamic additions to any theatre's season, and, as the Alliance's playwright in residence, she will (hopefully) be providing many more outstanding glimpses into the soul of Atlanta, of America.

Angry, Raucous,and Shamelessly Gorgeous is a beautifully realized piece, a script that celebrates the joys and heartbreaks of a life in the theatre, and a brilliant homage to mentoring, to passing the torch, to allowing a legacy have a life of its own, to having the courage to say to the young one who replaces you, "I hear you!  I love you!  Godspeed!"

And it's a marvelous addition to the ever-growing list of works written for the Alliance, a list that in the best of all theatrical universes, will prove to be shamelessly bottomless.  

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #AllianceTheatre  #ShamelesslyGorgeous)

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