7/19/2019           EAST TEXAS HOT LINKS       Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre



Something is not quite right!


That is the recurring comment heard as a group of African American working-class men gather in the “Top o’ the Hill,” a “place of their own,” far removed from the racially charged ethos that is Klan-controlled East Texas of 1955.


Something is not quite right!


On the one hand, XL Dancer may be in line for a supervisory job with the Ebert Construction Company, the first black man to ever be considered for such a job.  He is after all, the one entrusted with handling the TNT.


Something is not quite right!


On another hand, young Delmus, a little too simple for anyone’s comfort, has attracted the eye of a ripe young woman, light enough to “pass”


Something is not quite right!


Everyone is here to unwind.  XL’s brother-in-law (and landlord), Columbus, is comfortable enough, having wisely used his Mama’s bootlegging income to establish a real estate business.  Blind and paralyzed vet Adolph holds court with

his wisdom and his obscure and portentous mutterings.  Bar Owner Charlesetta desperately tries to keep her financial head above water and play “baby-sitter” for these men who are little too quick to anger and a little too slow to pay their tabs.  Roy Moore (and don’t you just love the irony of that name?) tries (in vain) to relive his High School Basketball “Glory Days.”  And Boochie and Buckshot wander in and out at will, adding to a toxic mix that seems pleasant and even a little joyful.  A least at first!


But not all is as it seems, and long-standing resentments simmer just out of sight.  A betrayal rooted in greed and anger is about to explode in all their faces.


East Texas Hot Links (also the name of a sausage-y treat of the area, probably always on hand at the “Top o’ the Hill”) is a small (75 minutes / No Intermission) firecracker of a play by Atlanta actor and writer Eugene Lee (who also directs here) that was first produced in 1991. It is chock-full of memorable characters, all of whom are survivors, all of whom seem comprised of equal parts humor and anger.  Though set in the Jim Crow south of 1955, it still crackles with contemporary energy and reminds us that we aren’t as “post -racial” as some (white) commentators continually claim. The dialogue is funny and compelling and character-specific to a fault.


Physically, it’s a beautiful production – Set Designer Ming Chen has created a dumpy(ish) hangout that retains enough beauty and even elegance to suggest that Charlesetta loves this place and takes care of it.  A night-time forest looms overhead, reminding us that we are far removed from the “mainstream” life of the area.  Lighting Designer Rebecca Makus keeps it dark but clear, night-time and dramatic, but never undercutting the warmth that the shelter of these walls SHOULD provide.


And the performances are all tremendous.  Maiesha McQueen is a tower of strength as Charlesetta, a woman no man will ever “mess” with.  Gerard Catus, so memorable in Proof a number of seasons back, brings to Adolph an eccentricity and strength that belies his physical infirmities.  Travis Turner’s XL is all simmering resentment, Wigasi Brant’s Columbus is all elegant calm, and Markelle Gay’s Delmus is simple innocence personified.  Anthony Goolsby’s Roy Moore, Cedric Pendleton’s Buckshot, and Eugene Russell IV’s Boochie all have their moments to shine.  And they all gel into a beautiful ensemble, making the group almost a character in and of itself.


Yes, something is not quite right here.  Sure, the times are bad for these folks, but most of what’s “not right” is created right here in this room on this evening and will explode with devastating consequences.


What is extremely “right” is Mr. Lee’s script, his direction, and the cast and stable of designers he uses to create this night in East Texas you won’t soon forget.


     --  Brad Rudy   (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy   #TrueColors  #EastTexasHotLinks)

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