Friday, April 2, 2010

Theater Review: A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick

A Refreshing Drink of a Play
By Lauren Yarger
A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick, Kia Corthron’s new Off-Broadway play is self fulfilling. It’s a refreshing, satisfying drink of a play in a theater world thirsty for new works that offer some hope and solutions for problems instead of focusing on dysfunction in hopes of winning a Pulitzer Prize.

Cool Dip follows the life of Abebe (a delightful William Jackson Harper), one of the most positively portrayed Christian characters you’ll ever see on a stage. At once endearing and exasperating, he’s someone you wish you knew in real life, because your life would be richer for knowing him.

Abebe journeys from his native Ethiopia to rural Maryland to attend college, though he is unable to declare a major since he is torn between his first love: preaching God’s word and becoming a pastor, and his second love: water studies which would offer him a way to help his drought-plagued village. Will he save the planet, or the souls on it? He tries to do both.

His host family is a godsend to orphaned Abebe. Pickle (Myra Lucretia Taylor, in a stand-out performance) and her daughter, H.J. (Kianne Mashcetti), make him feel right at home and play guinea pigs as he practices his sermon-giving and baptism-dunking techniques on them (a large favor on H.J.’s part, since she wants nothing to do with God).
Abebe tries to help Pickle, slowly losing touch with reality, through the grief of losing her father, husband and son in Hurricane Katrina. She hears their voices, inventively brought to life by set, lighting and sounds designers Kris Stone, Ben Stanton and Darron L. West. Abebe also attempts to help H.J. get back with her estranged boyfriend, Tich (Keith Eric Chappelle), and becomes a Big Brother to Tay (an adorable Joshua King), a young boy left mute by the trauma of witnessing his father murder his mother and sister.

Trying to deal with all of these emotional situations causes Abebe to realize that in many ways, he is a missionary, only in reverse. He’s a missionary from Africa, sent to save the souls of Americans. Abebe has his own ghosts to deal with, as well: his family and an adopted stepbrother, all lost because of the lack of safe drinking water in his village and the disastrous corporate attempts to profit by building a dam. He’s also haunted by the dawning truth that wherever he starts a good work, his efforts seem to go barren.

Corthron steers the theme of water as a nourishing and life-threatening force throughout the play, both metaphorically and directly, with many conversations hinging on bottled water vs. tap. Water even enters into Abebe’s no-nonsense, yet humorous preaching. Water is used in the practice of many non-Christian religions, he tells us, but they will have a surprise in the end because there “isn’t much water in hell.” Now some will be offended by that but if you heard Abebe 's conviction while speaking in his innocent, African-accented, endearing way, you'd probably smile.

The plot, though sometimes disjointed in trying to grapple with so many subplots, ripples with engaging characters, realistic, yet supernatural events, lots of God’s word and hope to bring a satisfying, thirst-quenching play to the stage. It's most welcome.

All of the actors, directed by Chay Yew, give exceptional performances. Cool Dip runs in a limited engagement through April 11 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42ns St., NYC. For tickets, call 212- 279-4200.

Christians might also like to know:
• No content notes. Go see it and take your friends.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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