Theatre perfect for 'Starving' actors

"Pay What You Can" night at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre is easily one of the greatest things ever. For one measly dollar, one can take in a high-quality performance in the heart of Washington. After all, even if the play isn't of extraordinary quality, who can resist seeing a live performance for such a small price?

Equally as cool as paying a dollar (or however much patrons wish to pay) to see a fantastic play is paying a dollar to see a fantastic play before anyone else in the world will see it. Such was the case Monday Nov. 14 when the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's production of "Starving," written by S.M. Shephard-Massat and directed by Seret Scott, debuted in front of a packed house.

The play addressed several important issues throughout the course of the performance. The obvious issue at hand would be race, but it was not discussed the way most people would expect it to be. Rather, the main issues were much more universal, such as infidelity, drug use and violence against women.

The small cast allowed the audience to see many aspects of each character's life and to get to know them as individuals. Each actor played his/her part extremely well and nailed the Southern black accent and dialect. It seemed like no other actor could play the personality of the characters better than those already cast.

The story revolves around the lives of 11 individuals living in a neighborhood for the "upscale negro population" in Atlanta. The audience sees how the events in one person's life affect the lives of those around them. While many of the characters have their own stories, the play's centerpiece is the character of Freida Ashby (Lizan Mitchell), a middle-aged black woman who essentially holds the neighborhood together. She is who all the women go to for advice and she almost plays landlord of her building, as evidenced in the first scene where she shouts at Archer Way (Craig Wallace) for planting vegetables in the garden in front of the house. She knows the ins and outs of the lives of everyone in the building, including the infidelities of Meeker Chastain (J. Paul Nichols). She is in almost every scene and she is the one who settles most of the disputes. Mitchell absolutely nails the loud, no-nonsense personality required by Freida's character.

Dawn Ursula does a wonderful job as Rosetta Simpson, a timid, proper, intelligent schoolteacher. She seems to put up a front as an independent single woman, yet the audience learns that she is the woman Meeker is having an affair with. Her intelligence, however, is what alienates and angers Meeker. This anger leads to the most intense scene in the performance, where Meeker rapes Rosetta. It actually looks like he is raping her in anger, and her screams of pain sound unbearably believable. Especially powerful was the way she seemed on the verge of bawling on the way back to her room after the rape. When she got back to her room, her crying made the audience feel every bit of her pain and made them hate Meeker even more.

Dolsiss Coolbroth (Bethany Butler) pulls double duty in this performance. The character of Dolsiss provides both comic relief and plays a serious role in addressing the issue of drug use. To see her walk around in a drug-induced daze and listen to her stoned-out ramblings is very amusing, but when the audience learns that she, a college graduate, can not run the business she inherited from her grandmother because she is high all the time shows that drug use was becoming a serious problem.

While it was possible to see this performance for as little as one dollar, this is a theatrical experience worth every penny paid at full price. The actors all do an impeccable job of showing each emotion, and the play addresses issues in such a way as to impact every member of the audience. The first production of this play was nearly perfect and future productions are sure to get it just right.

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