Friday, November 2, 2012

M Ensemble: King Hedly II (2 reviews)

M Ensemble opened its production of King Hedley II a The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse on November 1, 2012.
Set in 1980s Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, King Hedley II tells the story of an ex-con trying to rebuild his life. The play has been described as one of Wilson's darkest, telling the tale of a man trying to save up $10,000 by selling stolen refrigerators so that he can buy a video store.
John Pryor directed a cast that included Ethan Henry, Sheaun McKinney, Brandiss Seward, Makeba Pace, Samuel Umoh, and André Gainey.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Though humor, abundant truth and spiritual forces infuse each of the plays in the late Pulitzer Prize-winner (August Wilson)’s great career achievement, King Hedley II is one of his darkest, longest plays. Yet thanks to John Pryor’s astute direction and the work of a powerhouse cast, M Ensemble’s production is riveting, start to finish.
...the play orbits around its title character. King Hedley II (the magnetic Ethan Henry) is a frustrated ex-con who did time for murdering the neighborhood rival who had slashed him, leaving a huge scar on his face and a deeper one on his soul. Even in watchful repose or forever-fleeting moments of happiness, Henry’s King conveys the tension of a volcano ready to erupt.
A Wilson play seems to inspire M Ensemble’s artists, and King Hedley II is no exception. Set and lighting designer Gregory Contreas (along with scenic designer Jodi Dellaventura) creates a hardscrabble world that says these people have no money and even less hope.
The actors mine the riches of Wilson’s distinctive poetic-musical language, Henry playing the words like a virtuoso. Seward and McKinney are too young for their roles, but both actors are otherwise terrific: She’s a force of nature who speaks her mind, like it or not; he’s a feckless, sly guy whose lifelong fear of commitment is bumping up against the end that awaits us all. A furious Pace tears into Tonya’s despairing monologue about the deadliness of life in the neighborhood. Umoh provides understated comic relief as Mister, and Gainey rants with the best of ‘em as Wilson’s wise madman.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Outstanding performances by actors scraping out the insides of their being – especially Ethan Henry and Makeba Pace — propel Hedley to the ranks of M Ensemble’s most memorable productions.
The cast and director John Pryor have an incredible script to work with... Wilson’s addiction to street syntax, extended metaphor and poetic prose all synthesize into a verbal music. One of the cast’s triumphs is that they usually unreel this heightened speech so smoothly that it sounds perfectly natural, as if it was their souls speaking rather than their mouths.
Henry’s first act explosion is simultaneously terrifying in its ferocity yet clearly contains Wilson’s plea for understanding. Equally impressive is Pace’s long invective outlining why she wants to have an abortion, including her self-disgust that she will lose another child to the vicissitudes of the world just as she did her first daughter... This was the speech that won actress Viola Davis her first Tony Award and Pace does it full justice.
McKinney... embodies a hustler’s charm here and Elmore’s pleasure in the con. But McKinney also finds that same yearning that we can relate to.
Seward is just adequate most of the time, but her final agonizing monologue is as heart-rending as any in the production... It should be noted that Seward is noticeably 15 years too young for her part and McKinney is 25 years too young, grey hair dye notwithstanding.
The real crime was at Friday night’s performance there were probably no more than a dozen people in the audience, three of us Carbonell nominators. Yes, this is a flawed production, but it’s also one that will reward anyone who loves theater.
M Ensemble presents its production of August Wilson's King Hedley II at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse through November 18, 2012.

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