Monday, September 12, 2011

AAPACT: Jelly Belly (2 reviews)

The African-American Performing Arts Community Theatre opened its production of Charles Smith's Jelly Belly on  September 7, 2011.
In Charles Smith's Jelly Belly, a convict returns from a brief prison stay to resume his position as the neighborhood kingpin. When Jelly Belly  attempts to regain the service of Kenny, a former drug runner who has gone straight; Kenny is torn between the hope of prosperity through hard work shared with his friend Mike, or the opportunistic life of a drug pusher Jelly Belly provides.

Jelly Belly is the winner of the 1985 Cornerstone National Playwriting Award, the 1988 Theodore Ward National Playwriting Award and the 1990 NBC New Voices Award for its opening at the Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Teddy Harrell, Jr. directed a cast that included Vaughn-Rian st. James, Finley Polynice, Anthony Roberts, Kathleen Robiou, and Kristoff Skalet.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...thanks to the African American Performing Arts Community Theatre (AAPACT), Miami is getting a look at a play that, despite the passage of 22 years since its creation, hasn’t dated at all.
Melodramatic but grounded in truth, Jelly Belly becomes a struggle over the soul and future of Kenny, a good-hearted young black man with a limited IQ. Pushing him toward honesty and hard work is Mike, his friend and mentor at a construction company. Pulling him back into a life of drug-dealing and violence is Jelly Belly , the neighborhood pusher, a man just out of prison after serving a mere six months on a murder conviction.
Directed by AAPACT founder Teddy Harrell Jr., Jelly Belly keeps that tug-of-war tension taut for the majority of its 90-minute running time. Laughs and tenderness get mixed in.. But mostly, Jelly Belly is a sadly relevant cautionary tale.
What gives this new production of Jelly Belly its visceral power are its performances, particularly the frightening, seductive one by st. James – who is, in fact, a woman playing a murderous male drug dealer. Dressed and made up to look like the rotund dealer, a pencil-thin mustache drawn just over her upper lip, st. James gives away her gender only by the pitch of her voice. Otherwise, she’s all persuasive, dangerous business...
...Robiou’s fearless Barbara is a warrior in standing up to Jelly Belly, a man who murdered his own brother-in-law. And Skalet is a mush-mouthed, loose-limbed marvel as Bruce, a man so bent on getting and staying high that any violence done to him is just a momentary distraction from his quest.
Jelly Belly is certainly no August Wilson-level great play. But it is resonant, relevant and, at AAPACT, well-acted.
Kimberly Grant wrote for The South Florida Times:
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.
...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.
The African American Performing Arts Community Theatre production of Jelly Belly plays through September 30, 2011.

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