L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry NewsLSA DirectoryEventsContacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Theatre in Review

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

-A Theatre Project Book

Theatre in Review: Hang Time (The Flea Theater)

Dion Graham, Cecil Blutcher, Akron Watson. Photo: Maria Baranova

The first thing one sees in Hang Time is an image of such unmitigated horror that one fears director Zora Howard has set an impossible hurdle for Zora Howard, the playwright. It features three Black men, the play's entire cast, on a tiny deck; if you look closely, you'll notice that each is strapped to a pole -- the inventive set design is by Neal Wilkinson -- but so precise is Reza Behjat's lighting that they appear to be floating in space. Look again, however, at their dead-eyed expressions and slack body language, and you'll realize the play's title has nothing to do with the amount of time a kicked football stays in the air.

What Howard and her designers have produced is a stunning picture of the "strange fruit" that Billie Holiday sang about, of Black bodies swinging from trees. The trio consists of Bird, the senior member; Blood, who is young and still harbors dreams of travel; and Slim, his bad attitude signaled by his rictus smile and a laugh bristling with fury. We don't know what rank injustice has brought them to this place; indeed, it hardly matters. They are dead yet not really gone, marking time in a limbo from which there is no escape. They eye the passing scene and kill time with conversation but, every so often, one of them enters a death spasm, groaning in pain, his fingers splaying. Soon, however, he is back, seemingly alive if unable to move; it's a chilling vision of eternity informed by degradation.

There are moments in Hang Time when arguments flare up -- during a dispute over the relative merits of Freddie King, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, for example, or when Blood all but disowns responsibility for a child that is probably his -- and Howard finds real drama in this No Exit situation. Some passages are deeply poignant, especially when Blood, dreaming of a future that will never come, says, "I wanna stand underneath a mountain with the ocean falling on my head. Then I really lived, you know." He has, he says, saved a thousand dollars, for all the good it will do him.

The writing is bleak and colorful and gorgeous enough for poetry. Recalling an especially memorable lover, Slim says, "First time she laid it on me, changed my whole life. Quit my job. Changed my religion. Learned Creole behind that woman." Blood, angrily responding to the charge that he is abandoning his child, says, "I got four brothers. Them n----s hungry all the time. I got a grandma that stay with us and needs all kinds of pills and tinctures and shit. I got my mama working herself to death just to afford a grave to lay in. All of that? That's me. I do that." Bird warns Blood, "When you weary of the world, who gonna hold your head in her lap? Who gonna make sure you fed mind, body, and spirit?"

Still, over the course of its less-than-an-hour running time, the play never finds a dramatic life of its own. It's a tableau, brilliantly imagined, that makes a bruising statement about the systemized dehumanization of Black men -- yet it says almost everything in the first few minutes. There's an undeniable lilt of authenticity in the dialogue, a sense of hardscrabble lives lived close to the ground, that attests to Howard's considerable skills. Keeping it watchable are Akron Watson, simmering with rage as Slim; Dion Graham as Bird, his gravitas nurtured by a lifetime's worth of regrets; and Cecil Blutcher as Blood, forever trapped halfway between youth and maturity, dreaming of things he can never have. But Hang Time is, ultimately, an exercise in stasis, its power dissipated by the terminal nature of its situation.

Indeed, every detail of the production has been meticulously managed, including Dominique Fawn Hill's carefully thought-out costumes and the sound design of Megan Culley, which provides several key details including birdsong, a train whistle, and a tolling bell. An enormous amount of talent has been expended on Hang Time and it's good to have The Flea back with its new mission of focusing on Black, brown, and queer artists. But the next time around, this company will surely deliver much more. --David Barbour

(21 March 2023)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook