'The Repast': A black family struggles with gentrification

Posted: September 22, 2011

Mama Turner has died, and she hasn't been tucked away for more than a couple hours before the fighting between her two grown daughters begins. Her son tries to be the buffer, but old wounds still itch and burn, and aged Papa is too senile to understand what's going on.

What's going on is gentrification in the African American neighborhood where the Turners built a family, raised their kids, watch their grandchildren - and then their great-granddaughter - grow. Some of the later generations also were raised in the house, the last home standing on a block that developers need.

What's also going on beyond the plot of the sweet new play The Repast is the second Philly Urban Theatre Festival, brainchild of theater artist Kash Goins, at the Adrienne Theatre through Oct. 9. Goins, a Philadelphian, ran a similar festival in New York, and produces plays year-round that deal with the American black experience and minority communities in general. He seeks new work for the festival, whose productions range from one-nighters to weeklong runs.

The Repast, by young Bryana Michelle of West Philadelphia, runs through Sunday. Other entries include Kareem Rogers' Fair Son, about a former civil rights activist who distances himself from black culture; Davon Williams' The Boy Who Sees, about a mother and her blind son; and the rarely staged The Slave, by poet/playwright Amiri Baraka, in a production by Iron Age Theatre. It begins at the festival, then moves to Norristown's Centre Theater.

Also on the 13-show roster are Donja R. Love's How to Kill a Child and a Demon, about a family struggling in the aftermath of crime, and a play by Goins, the one-act Tonight?, a psychological thriller in which he performs.

The festival began Monday with a one-nighter called Lion (El Leon), a comedy in Spanish and English with puppetry and music, by Chris Davis. The Repast is the festival's first extensive run, a family play with a cast of 14, all of them good. Michelle's smooth scripting makes the characters so distinctive we can't possibly confuse them even when they're all onstage at once. Standouts are Dionne Stone and Karen Waller-Martin as squabbling daughters and Brett Roman Williams, as a grandson of Mama Turner.

The cast delivers the natural conversation of a real family dealing with life's ins and outs, an aged parent (Damien Wallace) providing some comic relief. The only overdrawn character is a buffoonish real estate developer (Gary Lime).

Kamal Rashad's staging moves things nicely, but the lengthy scene changes make the two-hour-plus running time seem even longer. And the uncredited lighting design directs one stage light straight into the eyes of the audience.


The Repast

$20. 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. Information: http://putf.org.


Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

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