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“Pig” in Wrong Pen

Living Word’s latest misses the mark with a misinterpreted character.

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In this production, he is none of those things. He turns out to be exactly what he seems: an itinerant street singer with a seedy past. Like the rest of the play, his character seems to have allegorical properties that are never exploited.

The play was originally produced in 1971 by the legendary Negro Ensemble Company. The playwright, Philip Hayes Dean, was a member of the company at the time. For a play with such a pedigree, the show seems surprisingly inert. However, much of this is because of the sympathetic characterization of Blind Jordan.

As the singer, Iman Shabazz brings a touch of other-worldliness to the show. It’s easy to see why Alberta is intrigued by him. His mysteriousness is important because Blind Jordan’s dialogue contains the stuff of a truly diabolical character.

Dramatically, the show would have worked as a classic morality play if the audience could only believe the blind man was capable of evil. Unfortunately, director Derome Scott Smith chose to emphasize the sympathetic aspects of Blind Jordan’s personality.

As Alberta, Tanya Tatum Medley is a commanding presence. She has a striking ability to create discomfort with only a few lines of dialogue. In another play, she could undoubtedly create an emotionally powerful character that would move audiences. Here, the production creates too many obstacles for that to happen. Nonetheless, her character’s frustration with life is tangible and unsettling.

Nancy M. Wyatt gives a funny performance as Weedy. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get past the fact that she’s playing a character many years older than her actual age. Because of the difference in age and because her character has a tendency to say exactly what she’s thinking, it’s difficult not to think of Vicki Lawrence in “Mama’s Family.” Toney Q. Cobb gives yet another solid performance as Uncle Doc, a disappointed hustler. Cobb seems to nail these roles like they’re second nature to him.

The multilevel set effectively portrays an apartment building that’s teetering on the brink of a demolishment order. Even more important, the set creates plenty of opportunity for interesting zigzag movement on stage.

But the lighting design is less accomplished. There are far too many fades, giving an amateurish quality to a show that is otherwise quite professional. And there’s an awkward lighting device used to symbolize the apartment’s front door. At first, it seems to have some metaphorical meaning but, in the end, it seems to be nothing more than an indication of whether the door’s open or closed. The actors never seem to know how to interact with the odd appearance of this yellow light. Like a similar contrivance in Living Word’s earlier production of August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” it only detracts from the cast’s work. As a young theater company, Living Word is getting a lot of things right. Lighting design is not one of them. S

“Sty of the Blind Pig” continues through June 13 at Living Word Stage Company. Tickets cost $12-$15, call 644-4030.

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