Theater review: 'bonded' at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
To ignore history is to impede understanding of its ongoing impact, and therefore the course of progress. That is the determined aim of "bonded," playwright Donald Jolly's unsparing study of homosexuality within the legacy of slavery.
Set in 1820s Virginia, this co-production by Playwrights' Arena and Latino Theater Company culls stringent research into a candidly reimagined narrative. Sonny (Terrence Colby Clemons) and Lily (Toyin Moses) are two of three remaining slaves on a declining plantation. Their overseer, "true African" Jack (Carl Crudup), embodies the hierarchy of the owned when he drags on shackled Asa (Eric B. Anthony), a recently purchased Northern "house boy."
Widowed Jack yearns for nubile Lily. She only wants to jump the broom with Sonny, whose platonic affection conceals a closeted history. All three initially disdain literate, defiant Asa -- until his antagonism with Sonny flares up into mutual attraction.
Director Jon Lawrence Rivera's gracefully specific staging places us on either side of designer John H. Binkley's raw-wood set, which yields a coup when its slave-quarters unit becomes a rolling depiction of plowing. Bob Blackburn's superb sound design and Adam Blumenthal's resourceful lighting are evocative assets, and the committed cast is fearless.
Jolly embraces the gritty milieu and authentic vernacular, N-word inclusive, and his storytelling, here poetic, there graphic, is certainly original. What still needs work is its structure, the compelling Act 1 giving way to an Act 2 so bluntly outcome-heavy that the intensity nearly dissipates. Either revising the descending action or cutting 10 minutes and the intermission seems advisable. Yet it's difficult to ignore "bonded's" essential integrity and intent.
-- David C. Nichols
"bonded," Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends April 9. $10-$30. (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
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Photo: Terrence Colby Clemons and (in back) Eric B. Anthony. Credit: Adam Blumenthal.