Written by Terence Patrick Hughes
Directed by Heidi Grumelot
Anthropomorphic moons sing songs of love, too many handguns are pointed, and a line literally divides a town along racial lines. Meanwhile, Huey Long's evil twin hatches a plan so comically insidious and dumb that it's hard to decide whether to be scornful or dumbfounded.
Terence Patrick Hughes' Lines
, produced by Horse Trade Theater Group
in association with London's Ice and Fire Theatre
(through August 27), lacks subtlety, which lends the play power, but ultimately undermines it. Set during the aftermath of a nebulous American war against Africa—how it came about or why it was fought remains a mystery—the play is a chaotic stew set in a small and apparently Southern town (most of the characters have passable Southern accents) that is segregated by a line painted on the ground: blacks on one side, whites on the other. Neither race is allowed to cross the line.
Bullet (Reiss Gaspard) and Doc (Matthew Wise) work on the line, but on opposite sides. Bullet is black, a grave-digger and a high school football coach. Doc, a white man, builds coffins and runs a no-frills funeral parlor that is not to his vacuous wife's (Emily Bennett) liking because it isn't as lucrative as her father's gun business. The Bullet-Doc dynamic is what you might expect: the two men respect each other but cannot pursue friendship because society forbids it. The first time we see the two men, Bullet is straining to reach an object he's accidentally dropped on the other side of the line. Doc tosses it back his way, acknowledging the friendship though not daring to defy the town's heinous laws. Both men are known for their masculine qualities: Doc is a reluctant war hero, praised for killing many Africans; and Bullet is an adept fighter.
mixes moments of poignancy with cartoonish racism and bloated symbolism. After a white woman (Amanda Van Nostrand) stumbles across the line with Keys (Roland Lane), her dead black lover, Doc fights to cover up Keys' body on the white side of the line as Bullet hides the white woman in his home. Their fear is that the town's mayor (Jeff Sproul), a ludicrously evil bureaucrat physically resembling the populist 1930s Louisiana governor Huey Long
("share our darkness" instead of "share our wealth
" could have been his campaign platform), may see this blatant violation of the great taboo. When Doc is commissioned to bury the Mayor's brother in a hush-hush ceremony, the body in the coffin turns out to be Keys, a switch-a-roo engineered by the white woman and intended to give Keys a proper burial. Doc is blackmailed into a scheme that is supposed to culminate in the murder of the black high school's star player in the black-versus-white football game that hangs over the entire play.
Boilerplate characters like a morally deficient deacon (Roland Lane) and the Mayor's incompetent, redneck lackeys (Paul Herbig, James Allerdyce) spice up the scenes a tad, and the acting overall is quite good. Matthew Wise succeeds as the conflicted though moral man battling an oppressive system. Reiss Gaspard approaches brilliance as strong-willed Bullet and Amanda Van Nostrand has a dulcet voice, singing a song as a lovelorn moon trying to decide whether to leave her "old star" for a newer, brighter star also played by Gaspard. Meant to symbolize a love affair between Bullet and the white woman that is barely fleshed out in the "real world" of the town, the moon-star romance should have been simply a man-woman romance.
attempts to address the dehumanizing aspects of racism. But it fails for the sometimes ham-fisted and dated way it treats the subject. The mayor for instance, the play's arch-villain, is a stock creation. He rambles about how blacks are "monkeys" and "savages" while concocting an insane plan to assassinate the black star football player as he scores a touchdown. He feels like a poorly-constructed comic book character, a Lex Luthor with far less complexity or emotional depth. Lines
does not explore the economic inequality of blacks and whites in any meaningful way, or attack the more subtle, pernicious racism of the 21st century.
(Photo: KL Thomas)