Theater review: 'Who Is Curtis Lee?' at the Met Theatre
Ashford J. Thomas sets “Who Is Curtis Lee?”-- now in its world premiere at the Met -- in 1950s North Carolina. That’s appropriate, as Thomas’ ambitious play is reminiscent of a 1950s drama, with the overblown emotionalism so typical of that era.
That’s Thomas’ weakness – and ultimately his strength. Although he has a tendency to overstate and sentimentalize, Thomas is a promising new dramatist with a flair for creating full-blown, folksy characters that are so believable, we begin to feel like flies on the wall of Paul Koslo’s colorfully ramshackle set. One wishes, however, that Thomas had reined in his overabundant plot just a bit.
The action transpires in a seedy bar owned by Joe (excellent Logan Alexander), whose patrons are African American laborers such as Herman and Otis (Gerrence George and Carl Crudup, both wonderfully comical). The monotony is broken by the arrival of Curtis Lee (Thomas, also outstanding), who blows in from parts unknown, full of fantastic lies and braggadocio. Curtis appeals to Joe’s dormant paternalism and also revives Joe’s manful pride -- a heroic but shattering resurgence.
The cast includes Paris Rumford as a girl who catches Curtis’ eye, James E. Hurd Jr. as a leg-breaking gangster from Curtis’ past, and Richard Lewis Warren as a racist bully who wants Joe’s bar. Under the direction of L. Flint Esquerra, all give powerful performances, although both Thomas and Esquerra need to rethink the poorly staged and unnecessary fantasy sequences that interrupt the action.
– F. Kathleen Foley
“Who Is Curtis Lee?” Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 28. $15. (323) 957-1152. www.themettheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Photo: Ashford J. Thomas and Paris Rumford. Credit: Lynne Conner. Courtesy of the Met Theatre.