"Spunk" at Lorraine Hansberry: What lifts the three stories from the page besides Nalley's pretty legs
“Spunk” at Lorraine Hansberry by Wanda Sabir

Rocking chairs sit idle on the porch. A fence borders the perimeter and the house has multiple rooms, a table in the one. The place is “O, Way Down Nearby” in a time “Round About Long Go.” The cast comes on stage singing a rhetorical: “How Do You Get to the Get as if the answer were a Mapquest or Google maps search away. The song shifts almost imperceptibly into the opening scenes of the first story, “Sweat,” C. Kelly Wright’s “Delia,” gathering her laundry. A petite woman, the men on the porch talk about her as she passes in her buggy, how she used to be so sweet and cute, her mean husband wrung her dry – all that’s left is bones and sweat. Delia has paid for her life and her husband, “Sykes” (Donald E. Lacy, Jr.) with sweat. This is a story of soured love and just desserts. It is certainly a Hurston classic and a warning to anyone who thinks oppression isn’t date stamped.

Jazz singer Kim Nalley is great as “Blues Speak Woman” in this first story. Her ability here and elsewhere to sing as she shifts in and out of characters without upsetting the subtitles of each, is amazing and fun to watch.  The addition of her original songs: “Killer Diller” and “Groceries Poppa (Complete My Recipe)” make this production something special, a bit more special than I thought as I ran up the hill Mother’s Day.

Directed and choreographed by Darryl V. Jones, with Rodney Street as the “Guitar Man,” adapted by George C. Wolfe, with music by Chic Street Man, Hurston’s work takes the audience to a time in the past when black community was a continuum uninterrupted.  Life was what it is: a little good, a little bad, a little ugly. Sometimes good would win, other times it lost, but people stayed on the path ‘cause the train was coming.

What lifts the three stories from the page besides Nalley’s pretty legs, is this attention to detail and characterization. Huston is masterful in her depictions of black life.  In “Gilded Six Bits” not only is the language superb, the director’s clever use of props—song and chorus to tell the story of “Missy Mae’s” infidelity and her husband, “Joe’s” forgiveness, is what makes this my favorite story. The other stories “Sweat” and “Story in Harlem Slang” a cute skit about two pimps: Jelly and Sweet Back trying to get over on a street savvy sister, round out the two hour production. It didn’t do much for me. Maybe it works better on the page?  “Gilded Six Bits,” in terms of setting, props and acting, brings out the best in all.
The play runs till June 3 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Call (415) 474-8800 for tickets or visit www.lhtsf.org  Mother’s Day was a family matinee—all tickets were $16. The next family matinee is May 27, 2 p.m. Not only are all seats $16, there is a free catered luncheon afterwards.
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