Braggadocio and barflies — the world premiere of a brilliant new play, Who Is Curtis Lee?, is being performed at The Met Theatre until the end of February.
Written by (and starring) young playwright Ashford J. Thomas, and beautifully directed by L. Flint Esquerra, Thomas”™ evocative play is set in impoverished 1950s Greensboro, North Carolina. Joe (Logan Alexander) runs a shabby tavern and backroom distillery frequented by a couple of garrulous and bickering old barflies named Otis (Carl Crudup) and Herman (Gerrence George).
The play begins with these fellows congregating at their favorite watering hole, reminiscing about the enthusiastic young man that came into their lives like a whirlwind, blowing through their town and bringing trouble in his wake. His boundless ambition and tall stories both charmed and annoyed them all. But the question remains – Who is Curtis Lee?
Calvin Hunt, a greedy white developer (Richard Lewis Warren), wants to buy Joe”™s place and, when Joe is unwilling to sell, makes it menacingly clear he won”™t take “˜no”™ for an answer.
Curtis Lee (Ashford J. Thomas) breezes in to Joe”™s place one day. Depending on which story he tells on a given day, he is either a boxer or a songwriter. Is he the real deal or just another con man? Certain people want to do Curtis harm, including the gangster to whom Curtis owes money, and then there”™s Otis. It seems Curtis has gotten way too familiar with Otis”™ lovely daughter Angel (Paris Rumford) far too quickly”¦
A few times at the beginning, playwright Thomas effectively uses direct audience address (a single actor in a spotlight) and flashback to provide a little back story, before letting his play chronologically unfold. When we return to the opening scene, it”™s exciting to see the story continue in an unexpected direction.
I really loved this authentic and engaging play. Two fantasy sequences involving a sartorially splendid radio songstress Miss Wanda Denise, played by Kelley Chatman (pictured above), brings some hit radio tunes to life before our eyes, and provide a light diversion from the drama laced with comedic moments and hilarious dialogue.
Another one of Thomas”™ strengths, and the ensemble cast”™s superlative abilities, is the deft way the mood of the play shifts abruptly from comedy to tragedy and back again. This is masterful play-writing.
Making his Los Angeles debut with Who is Curtis Lee?, Thomas is an exciting new playwright whose work I will be avidly following.
A fantastic little play in a tiny space, chock full of some memorable performances – there are only three more weekends to catch this brilliant piece of theatre – don”™t miss this production of Who is Curtis Lee?
Written by Ashford J. Thomas. Directed by L. Flint Esquerra. Produced by Paul Koslo and Hari Williams. Associate producer: Alanna Payton. Presented by The MET Theatre.
WHERE: The Met Theatre, is downstairs in the Great Scott Theatre,
1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood, CA 90029.
just off Santa Monica Blvd near the Western exit of the 101 freeway.
The theatre can be found one block east of Western Ave. and a few steps south of Santa Monica Blvd. Parking is available ($3 fee is charged) Â½ block east of the venue on Santa Monica Blvd. in the Earl Scheib lot.
WHEN: January 22- February 28, 2010. Fri. & Sat. at 8, Sundays at 3pm
ADMISSION: $15. Students and seniors, $10
RESERVATIONS: (323) 957-1152
Review by Pauline Adamek