Orlandersmith takes us on her rich journey in ‘Stoop Stories’

By David Lampe­-Wilson
©The Chester Telegraph – 2014

While musicals and comedies are the expected bounty of the summer theater season, a brief evening of pointed drama can stimulate the mind, so many summer theatergoers will welcome Stoop Stories, now at Weston Playhouse’s Second Stage.

Dael Orlandersmith, the Obie-winning actress and playwright, transports the audience in 'Stoop Stories.' Photo by Tim Fort.

Dael Orlandersmith, the Obie-winning actress and playwright, transports the audience in ‘Stoop Stories.’ Photo by Tim Fort.

Theater, poetry and performance art meet in Dael Orlandersmith’s one­woman show, a gentle ­but piercing exploration at Orlandersmith’s formative years growing up in New York City. In this one-act evening, which runs little more than an hour, we are introduced to a host of characters of all races and creeds – from a cocky youth to a Polish Holocaust survivor to a Latina junkie to a cantankerous old woman in the Village going to see Nina Simone.

We accompany Orlandersmith on a guided tour of New York City as she strolls from Harlem down to the East Village and back again, encountering personalities from her past. Orlandersmith embodies each character, personalities who seem coiled and restless to get out, to tell their stories, to make a connection with the audience.

She builds each character with specific postures and gestures and more importantly, with individual humanity limned by speech patterns and rhythms that often soar poetically with remembrance and regret. If song was merely spoken, this is what it would sound like. Each individual story weaves itself into a tapestry of a time and place.

This is a deeply personal play written by Orlandersmith; she revisits a Harlem that is no more during a journey that not only documents a time and place but also serves as a form of closure. While the evening is brief and the performance is rich, the play is hobbled by a too real representation of a city stoop.

The simple stairway has too much visual weight and as Orlandersmith tells us we are moving through the city, that very concrete stoop never allows us to believe that we have moved at all. One is left to wonder if we would feel more on a journey if we could be set free from this very solid anchor.

Director Steve Cosson utilizes the awkward acting space well, although far corners of the audience may struggle to see some facial expressions as Orlandersmith moves around the tiny thrust stage.

Lighting Design by Amith A. Chandrashaker is simple and direct and often dreamlike, but Sound Design by Eric Shimelonis is thin and we yearn for more street sounds to serve as background music to the natural poetry of Orlandersmith’s monologue. Still, it’s a fine performance and a suitable entertainment for a summer night. Stoop Stories continues through Sunday, Aug. 3 at the Weston Playhouse Second Stage — the Weston Rod and Gun Club, 983 Route 100, Weston.

Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, call 802-­824-­5288.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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