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Theater review: The 'Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King'

March 22, 2012 |  3:31 pm

Tracey A. Leigh and Philip Casnoff in "The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King”
Can a white guy say anything interesting about race? That’s a question raised this spring by the recent run of Bruce Norris’ tart “Clybourne Park” and now “The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King,” Andrew Dolan’s polished but talky drama at Ensemble Studio Theatre LA’s Atwater playing space.

Dolan chooses George and Martha’s neighborhood to plant his rhetorical land mines, an Albee-esque world where the epithet “adjunct professor” is used as a put-down and a turn-on simultaneously.

Maverick social worker-turned-professor Simon (Philip Casnoff) marries his African American grad student, Lashawna (Tracey A. Leigh), much to the raised eyebrows of fellow faculty members Augustus (Carlos Carrasco) and Janine (Judith Moreland).  When Lashawna’s troubled younger brother, Anquan (Theo Perkins), is expelled from the college for theft, he moves in with the couple and the battles begin.

On Tom Buderwitz’s shabby chic living room set, “Mistresses” plays like drawing room comedy, punctuated by (too many) lectures on history, race and theater given by its professorial posse. Rod Menzies directs an impressive ensemble, with a deft Perkins and saturnine Casnoff generating the most chemistry as unlikely friends.

But here’s the downer: There’s nothing terribly provocative about the play. We get arguments about victimization and responsibility, but they don’t hold much heat; Dolan has a stronger ear for faux pas than polemic. (Per Albee, the playwright seems most interested in imploding marriages.)  

That makes for an entertaining evening, but “Mistresses” doesn’t get close to the blistering anguish of another play about an interracial academic union, “Neighbors,” still the rawest take on the subject in the last several seasons.

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-- Charlotte Stoudt

“The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King” Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 29. $25. 2 p.m. Sunday  shows, pay-what-you-can through April 15. Contact: (323) 644-1929 or www.ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: Tracey A. Leigh and Philip Casnoff. Credit: Tom Burruss.

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