Theatre Review: “Before It Hits Home”
“Maybelle, if it weren’t for ignorance you’d have no sense at all.”
Cheryl West’s “Before It Hits Home,” directed by Shanea N. Taylor for Richmond Triangle Players and as a co-production with Sycamore Rouge (who will host the show on its second leg), tells the story of Wendal Bailey, played by Delvin Young, a bisexual, African American jazz musician, as he comes to terms with his recent AIDS diagnosis. Wendal is in deep denial in regards to his health, even seeing several different doctors hoping that he was misdiagnosed. But Wendal soon realizes he can no longer ignore how sick he has become and decides to go home to his family’s house to recuperate after an extended hospital stay.
Wendal’s lover Douglass, played by Thomas E. Nowlin, has been having a secret affair with Wendal for the past seven years and is one of the only people to be at Wendal’s side at his sickest. Nowlin’s portrayal of Douglass is sincere and he adds a quiet elegance to every scene he’s in. Wendal’s girlfriend Simone, played by Jasmine Hammond, cares deeply about Wendal but has noticed that he has become distant. There is one particularly artistic scene between the three actors where Wendal is having a simultaneous conversation with Douglass and Simone. In the scene, Nowlin and Hammond are on opposite sides of the stage with Young in the middle alternating between the two. I found this scene to be expertly directed by Taylor, visually interesting, as it highlights the differences between Wendal’s relationships with his respective partners.
First brought to the stage in the 90’s, the outdated medical knowledge of AIDS at that time the play was written often forces the plot and dialogue to border on offensive, as Wendal is rejected by some of his family members due to his condition. For example in one particularly cringe-worthy scene, Wendal’s aunt Maybelle, played by Karla Brown, comes to see him covered from head to toe in a ridiculous outfit and wearing oven mitts so as not to be exposed to the dangerous virus, which she apparently believes is airborne.
Particularly painful is Wendal’s rejection by his mother Reba, played by Belinda Todd. When Wendal tells Reba about his diagnosis she refuses to stay in the same house with him and moves into Maybelle’s home with Wendals’s son Dwayne, played by Seth Lyons, whom Wendal’s father and mother have adopted. Todd was very convincing when playing carefree and upbeat but fell a bit flat when she had to show anger, never really matching the emotional level of the other actors.
One of the strongest performances in this production was that of Toney Cobb, who plays Wendal’s father, Bailey. Cobb is extremely charismatic and gives an emotionally charged performance as Bailey who, in the end, is the only person to show Wendal unconditional love as he is consumed by the virus.
Overall I feel that the actors and Taylor did what they could with the outdated material, while controversial and progressive in the early 90’s, many of the character’s extreme reactions to Wendal seem a bit ridiculous by today’s standards.
“Before It Hits Home” is playing at Richmond Triangle Players through February 9th and at Sycamore Rouge February 22nd-March 10th.
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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