Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Spunk' Showcases Young Actors with Promise

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Spunk' Showcases Young Actors with Promise

Article excerpt

THE wit and insight of Zora Neale Hurston's short stories combined with the dramatic ability of George C. Wolfe make "Spunk" a sardonic, wryly funny, sometimes-bitter look at male-female relationships in three different settings. The short plays, benefiting from strong acting by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, opened Friday at the Grandel Square Theatre and will run through May 29, alternating weeks with another Wolfe play, "The Colored Museum," which begins on Friday.

Michelle Crenshaw is both narrator and participant, and Bo Diddley Jr. adds blues guitar accompaniment, plus some wistful, down-home songs along the way. The other four actors - Robert Cornelius, J. Samuel Davis, Randy Donaldson and Austene Van Williams - take varying roles in each of the three plays, and all six provide standout performances.

Van Williams works the hardest, married to Cornelius in "Sweat," the target of all three in "Story in Harlem Slang," and the wife of Davis in "The Gilded Six-Bits," and she handles the changing characterizations in nice style.

Cornelius is powerful in every way. His portrayal of Sikes, Van Williams' sadistic husband in "Sweat," makes the skin crawl, and also made me think of Charles Dickens' Bill Sykes in "Oliver Twist." Van Williams is a beaten - both literally and figuratively - washerwoman who finally gets revenge on Cornelius, turning his viciousness around and leaving him, as it were, hoist by his own petard. One sympathizes immediately with the terrorized Van Williams.

Raw humor is the feature of "Harlem Slang," as the three men, dressed in old-fashioned zoot suits gaudy enough to leave the sun in shadow, try to separate Van Williams, a domestic on her day off, from her virtue and her money. Donaldson, who shows wonderful comedic talent and timing from his highly marcelled hair to the soles of his shoes, is a delight, and Davis, taller and slinkier, describes hinself as "randy, dandy and smooth like brandy," as he moves in on Van Williams. …

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