Art can be provocative. Art can inspire. In Pearl Cleage’s genial comedy, Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous, a performance art piece takes center stage as a vehicle to ruminate on the life-changing nature of the spoken word (accompanied by full nudity), relationships, and the passing of the torch from an older, more revered figure to a new generation. The show is at Hartford Stage through February 6th.
The plot centers on Anna Campbell (Terry Burrell), a performer whose signature piece, Naked Wilson, was a cause celebre that forced the actress and her companion Betty (Marva Hicks) to relocate to Europe for 30 years (In the piece she recited the speeches of male characters from August Wilson plays in the buff). Now, lured back to the states in the twilight of her career, she aims to perform the work one more time before she criss-crosses the United States with a different one-woman show. Or she thinks. Kate (Cynthia D. Barker), a young producer and former student of Betty’s at Spelman College, only wants to honor Anna, not have her perform at a local arts festival. Instead, she has hired a young, ahem, actress, Precious “Pete” Watson (Shakirah Demesier) to perform Anna’s decades old work. Sparks fly among the characters as miscommunications produce hard feelings, recriminations and, finally, a coming together for a satisfying and gratifying ending.
The playwright Pearl Cleage has crafted an uncomplicated, overall upbeat play that is easy to watch and digest. The characters are fleshed out just enough to provide an ample dollop of reflections and musings in which to propel the show forward. The main themes of female empowerment and the higher purpose of art can be somewhat loquacious but, overall, are interjected with a soft sell combativeness.
The four person ensemble dutifully banters and argues about art and life. The cast is led by Terry Burrell’s as Anna. She can be overly effusive at times, but the actress gives a feisty and thoughtful performance. Marva Hicks provides a composed, serene portrayal as Anna’s friend and confidante, Betty. She is the poised Ying to Anna’s more fiery and out-spoken Yang. As the producer Kate, Cynthia D. Barker, is believably harried as she troubleshoots on the fly, putting out one fire after another. The standout actress in the play is Shakirah Demesier as the demonstrative and outspoken adult performer “Pete.” Ms. Demesier is full of spunk and sass as she speaks her mind and forges her own identity.
Susan V. Booth’s direction is conventional and nondescripl, moving characters about the stage as they deliberate and pontificate. The spacious, finely appointed hotel suite designed by Collette Pollards is under utilized as all the action takes place in the amply sized living room positioned down stage.
Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous, an upbeat and agreeable comedy playing at Hartford Stage through February 6.