When you’re the only Black professional theater company in the DMV and have a timeless proven product, it’s about perfection not production values. Restoration Stage has refined an already polished play into a more complex, nuanced production that gets better with every iteration.
I first saw ‘ANTS’ at the Bowie Playhouse in 2014 and I was struck by the fully authentic and believable male characters and the complex and non-stereotypical female roles, particularly Dr. Adrienne Taylor, played by Suli Myrie who channels the uptight but professionally polished clinical psychologist.
She carries the play and makes you want her to care about her ‘subjects’ even while she fights her inner demons to separate the objective observer from the active participant. She’s not here to treat these tortured souls, but to study them and confirm her theory about their impact on women.
What makes this production so much richer than the one I saw at the cavernous Bowie Playhouse is the intimate immediacy of the Anacostia Playhouse and the attention to detail that you can viscerally experience up close and personal. The exquisite African art collection that defines the surroundings of every refined Black professional woman, the classic Josephine Baker French jazz albums and dashikis her father squires in their therapy sessions, and the rich red leather furniture that compliments the ravishing redbone’s sense of fashion down to the snake skin stilettos and natural hose that creates a palpable tension during her stormy sessions with her sexually abused and confused subjects.
When the house lights go up in the black box theater you can almost feel the heat of the player’s performance and the smell of their orange jumpsuits and black hoodies. MarQuis Fair as Tyrone the jailbird bristles with the raw energy of a lathered up prize fighter about to enter the ring and fight for his life as he delivers the defining warning:
“It’s not the hoodie that scares you, it’s what it hides underneath.” As he peels off his top to flaunt his rippled physique, “It’s my Chocolate Covered Skin, that doesn’t burn in the sun!”
It would be a disservice to reveal the plot but I can tell you that Howard University graduate Christopher Ezell, Tillmon Figgs, Wilma Lynn Horton and Charles Harris seamlessly compliment MarQuis Fair and Suli Myrie as original members of the cast. Newcomer Miles Folley as Snoop Dog style rap star ‘Flex’ gives a powerful performance as the angry young macho male who hides a dark secret under an outer shell of misogyny and sexual bravado.
But Dr. Adrienne Taylor sees right through the facades and is driven to push the envelope and these men to their ultimate destiny. From the cosmic joke that the Stanford educated AJ feels that life has played on him as the unhappy ‘Gay’ man, to Tyrone’s abandonment by his church lady Mama when he was 14 and thrown into the back of a police car to start his life as a felon, the tortured stories of each subject is a play-with-in-the -play, but the roguish Mr. McCormick saw through all the haze and laid it on the line, “I know I’m a 21st century slave”.
Ultimately this outstanding performance is about pain and shame and is not to be missed.
Some critics rail that at 3 hours plus a 10 minute intermission ‘ ANTS’ is too long. But I suspect that the raw energy and time it takes to fully develop and define the complex motivations of four sons, a daughter and their rolling stone Daddy makes them uncomfortable to be that close to a real dysfunctional yet dynamic black family! One final time!
If you missed the two sold-out runs last winter of Steven A. Butler, Jr.’s remarkable “Chocolate Covered Ants” you have one final chance this season. Don’t miss this chance to see this Five Star rated Restoration Stage, Inc.’s breakout production of “Chocolate Covered Ants” directed by Courtney Baker-Oliver ; which runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening with a Saturday and Sunday matinee from October 19, 2016 through November 13, 2016.
Presented at the Anacostia Playhouse at 2020 Shannon PL SE, Washington, DC 20020, tickets are available at www.restorationstage.com or by calling (202) 714-0646. Visit our Cultural Calendar of Events for more upcoming events and shows!