The African American Performing Arts Community Theatre (AAPACT) is a staple in the black acting community. There’s always something new to learn when you watch an AAPACT play. No audience member’s experience is alike. Each member connects with the stories that are told in their own way.
One of the founders of the successful AAPACT is a born-and-raised Miamian, Teddy Harrell Jr. Harrell has directed plays for many years. So he’s used to finding a great script that’s sure to resonate with the audience, then making it come to life on a small, yet intimate stage.
Now, Harrell isn’t perfect. No one can be 100 percent of the time. So, it’s not surprising that Harrell’s latest play, Jelly Belly, left a lot to be desired.
Jelly Belly, written by Charles Smith, is an
award-winning play, by an award-winning playwright about a recently released convict, Jelly Belly (played by Vaughn-Rian St. James), who is trying to regain his status as the “neighborhood kingpin.” Upon his return to the neighborhood, he tries to coerce Kenny (Finley Polynice), his former drug runner, to re-join his workforce.
But Kenny is torn between reverting to his dangerous old habits and the new, straight life he has begun while working in construction with his friend, Mike (Anthony Roberts). The rest of the cast include Mike’s wife Barbara (Kathleen Robiou), and Bruce (Kristoff Skalet), the neighborhood junkie.
To succinctly state my take on Jelly Belly: Too much talking and not enough action to really move the plot along. It’s played too close to type as far as the script is concerned. Harrell, who by all intents and purposes is a fine director, did not seem to do much with the script. Just because Smith wrote the play as more of a scenery chewer, doesn’t mean that it had to stay that way.
Even though Smith’s Jelly Belly has won the Cornerstone National Playwriting Award, the Theodore Ward National Playwriting Award and the NBC New Voices Award in St. Paul, MN, I am disappointed with the writing. From what I can gather from those who are familiar with Smith’s work, he employs no ending to his plays, so that society can come up with a resolution to the highlighted black social issue.
As someone who writes her own stories, I have a huge problem with works that have no ending. Every story has a beginning and an ending. You can’t just leave a big question mark.
Moving on: Skalet’s Bruce is the life of the play and the saving grace for the movement of the plot. Without Skalet’s slapstick, faltering junkie, the play would have fallen with a thud.
Polynice, as Kenny, manages to convey to the audience his hesitation, despair, disappointment and inner turmoil. His casting in the role is perfect.
Likewise, Roberts is cast rightly as Mike, although I lean more toward type-casting. Having Roberts cast against type the next time around would be a great fit to really show his acting prowess.
Lastly, the character of Jelly Belly is supposed to be a menacing, really scary dude. However, St. James (a woman) as Jelly fails to strike fear in this audience member. It’s hard to see St. James harming even a fly. She seems to have a very nice and humble disposition. That’s great for her as a human being. But it doesn’t play well within a character that is supposed to be menacing.
Despite the enjoyment of the audience around me when I attended the performance last weekend, I would have liked to see more action and life in Jelly Belly, the play. Meanwhile, I would have liked to see the baddie in St. James come out to play. Alas, she’s too nice. And that does not a menacing convict make.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Jelly Belly
WHEN: Now through Oct. 2, 2011
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday &
3 p.m. Matinee Sunday
WHERE: African American Performing Arts Community Theatre (AAPACT)
6161 NW 22nd Ave.
COST: $5 – $25
CONTACT: (305) 456-0287 / www.aapact.com
Photo: Courtesy of Juan E. Cabrera
Cast of Jelly Belly: Kristoff Skalet stars in the African American Performing Arts Community Theatre play.