It will take the average reader about three minutes to read this newspaper column in which I, a person who is paid to share my opinion, will reveal the ways in which Black, White and Read All Over is a play totally lacking in substance and utterly devoid of entertainment value. But before we arrive at that précis, let's pause in consideration of all the hard work and youthful anguish that went into bringing another inert drama to a local strip mall.
Consider the desire of one young man (in this case, Is What It Is Productions' technical director, Michael Peck) to tell the story of a guy whose fiancée is murdered and who's then stuck raising her 8-year-old son, played here by Alex Spencer, a prepubescent girl (which, in the world of strip-mall theaters, counts as stunt casting). Try to imagine what would compel a grown person to perform for two hours the offstage voice of a smug psychotherapist, as Patty Hackmann does here. And try to fathom why any playwright, young or old, would write such dialogue as this:
Father: You're being manipulative.
Black, White and Read All Over
Studio One Performing Arts Center, 4520 East Thomas Road
Continues through Saturday, August 27. Call 480-994-9495.
Son: What does "manipulative" mean?
Father: It means you're your mother's son.
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I tried each of these approaches myself as I sat and watched Black, White and Read All Over, to no avail. In the end, no matter how hard I tried to appreciate the sweat and toil that went into this modern tragedy, it was just another crummy play; another amateurish soporific that hauled its audience from point A to point B for no reason other than the guy who wrote it works at a theater.
Of the many performers tricked into appearing in what is essentially a two-hour reenactment of some young loser's therapy session, the fellow with no lines fares the best. He's Mat Weddle, a 22-year-old guitarist whose playing before and during the show provides the only real entertainment all evening. Whether singing "Amazing Grace" or strumming an instrumental "Girl From Ipanema," Weddle is a warm, engaging performer with pretty impressive chops. Unfortunately, director Peck keeps Weddle on stage throughout the performance as an invisible spectator who, when he's not plinking out background music, sits on a crumbly wood pallet and stares down the proceedings. (After an hour in one of Studio One's ass-numbing plastic chairs, I coveted Weddle's pallet.)
The rest of the acting is earnest at best, sheepish and occasionally inaudible at worst. In the performers' defense, there isn't a whole lot to work with here. We watch the young couple meet cute; argue about marriage; stumble into a gang of thuggish muggers. Mercifully, Peck doesn't ask us to watch a reenactment of the murder scene he's been hinting at all evening. It's the only favor the playwright hands us, however.
Go see Black, White and Read All Over, but only if you're deeply tolerant of maudlin theater or know someone in the cast who's expecting you to come watch them perform. But don't say I didn't warn you.