Playwright: Samm-Art Williams
At: ETA Creative Arts Foundation,
7558 S. South Chicago Ave
Phone: ( 773 ) 752-3955; $25
Runs through: Feb. 27
Someone has been buying up property in the rural Southern community where, long ago, its citizens banished a teenage girl for the crime of becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Years later, she returns, a wealthy woman, to her now-destitute kin—but this is NOT The Visit, and the former outcast does NOT demand her betrayer's execution. No, Miss Lila Wilson has other plans for those who wronged her—plans she will not reveal until they have each confronted their inhumanity and have been pushed to the brink of despair in anticipation of the punishment each knows they deserve.
Samm-Art Williams—author of the multiple award-winning Home and himself a native of Burgaw, North Carolina—knows his territory. Woman From The Town is not so much an observation on money and justice as it is a portrait of small-town society mired in ambivalent values. Lila's stern parents are no sanctimonious hypocrites fearing loss of social status, but descendants of illiterate slaves disappointed at the sudden impediment to their daughter's future independence—frustration that blinds them to the equally ambitious aspirations of her sister, Laura.
If all's well that ends well, then a play where nobody dies unwilling or makes any irrevocable mistakes can be said to have a happy ending ( but not a romantic one. Love may be sweet, but bitter intolerance and economic deprivation will eclipse hormonal impulses every time ) . Audiences unaccustomed to fables cloaked in everyday garb, however, may balk at such presentational devices as characters breaking into soliloquy or winking at us—figuratively, if not literally —after a singularly deft stratagem.
Under Runako Jahi's direction, however, a sturdy cast led by Tina Marie Wright as the benevolently scheming Lila, flanked by Tyren Thomas as her likewise Machiavellian nephew, Buddy, and Deanna K. Reed as the stubborn Laura ( who must be TRICKED into Following Her Bliss ) spin a yarn so riveting, populated by such engaging personalities, that we can hardly wait for intermission to be over so that we can learn what happens NEXT.
Or perhaps it's Robert C. Martin's scenic design, invoking a shabby-genteel farmhouse with so much nostalgic charm that we almost forgot the 10 inches of snow lurking just outside the theater.