Rebecca Gray in the role of Susan,
Tommy Smith's stunning drama walks on the wild side of forbidden love, and Gray has the toughest challenge in portraying—one has to say it—a perfectly charming, perfectly polite, empathetic, and nurturing predator. She conveys the character's inner and outer hungers in an unforgettable way.
Taraji P. Henson in the role of Jane Wilson,
A plot-heavy show like this one puts huge demands on a lead performer, who has to find and sustain a three-dimensional character throughout a cavalcade of incidents. Henson does so subtly and effectively. Her big-city reporter, covering an allegation of rape of a young black woman by white frat boys, gets more story than she bargained for. Henson lets us in on the naked ambition, the rush to judgment, and the growing doubts step by step, so that we don't just follow the fascinating, infuriating case, we follow Jane with equal interest.
Kirk Kelleykahn in the role of John,
Not even the horrors of slavery could douse the fire in Kirk Kelleykahn’s young John, now freed but still residing in his owners’ former home. John is smart, self-protective, literate, and a dreamer. Having lived in this Jewish home, he’s also a member of the faith. John is possibly the most unusual role Kelleykahn will ever have played, but the actor makes the role most noticeable for the careful balancing act he does, making John the much-needed, adorably comic relief in this play about supposedly better times to come.
Kristine Nielsen in the role of Sonia,
How does an actor stand out among her cast mates, all equally adept at comedy, equally gifted in timing and physicality? In the case of Kristine Nielsen playing Sonia, she sits alone, talking on the telephone, on the back porch of the family’s country home, in her pajamas and fluffy slippers, arms and legs wrapped protectively around herself, as she rejects and then accepts a date from a man she met the night before. All the humor Sonia uses—to deal with her life and to engage the audience—seems to visibly melt away, as she takes a palpably scared step out of the box her life has become.
The Whipping Man, West Coast Jewish Theatre at Pico Playhouse
Ricco Ross plays Simon, an African-American former slave in a Jewish home. With no other responsible adults left on the premises, Simon takes the reins. Bringing out his home-cooked Passover dinner to feed a younger ex-slave and young former owner (both likewise played beautifully), Ross’s Simon becomes a Jewish mother, proud of his cooking, intent on maintaining a warm but disciplined home for his figurative children. Ross turns this unlikely character into a person everyone would love to befriend.
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