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A timely play about AIDS, race and family - Inspired acting, perfect staging brings Before It Hits Home to life
A timely play about AIDS, race and family - Inspired acting, perfect staging brings Before It Hits Home to life
by Jacob Clark - SGN A&E Writer

Before It Hits Home, Cheryl West's searing play about a Bisexual who dies of AIDS, is still surprisingly timely, in BROWNBOX Theatre's production at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center. The play, which was originally work-shopped by the Seattle Group Theatre in 1989, is plumbed for emotional depth by director Tyrone Brown.

The play is neatly divided into its two acts. In the first act, Wendel, a jazz fusion musician, deals with the diagnosis and a brush with death. In the second act, he goes home to die. Surrounding him are two lovers, a male and a female, and a loving family that is torn asunder by his diagnosis and how he became infected. The play deals, in microcosm with an African American story, but it also has a macrocosmic side, as AIDS is used metaphorically to represent all terminal illnesses, the need for the ill to come to terms with their life's actions and the toll taken by primary caregivers.

Director Tyrone Brown holds nothing back in his emotive, visceral vision of the play. This gives his actors permission to dive deeply into every scene, delivering genuine characters that the audience laughs with rather than at, and when the play rages, the audience feels the rage, when tears begin to flow onstage, the spectators are as reverential as if it were happening in their own homes.

The acting is uniformly authentic and at times, inspired. Eurayna Gregory is marvelous as Angel, a spunky pregnant AIDS patient and wonderful as Simone, Wendel's trusting lover. Gregory has the kind of onstage persona that can make the sparks fly, the hormones roar, the quietest moment last in the mind like the final note of a Chopin piano concerto. She is entirely unique and entirely authentic. She's got that hard to pin down quality that makes an audience lean forward for her scenes. It's star quality, and I long to see her next performance.

G. To'mas Jones delivers a deeply felt performance as Wendel, exploring all the aspects of a complex man. Jones has that rare ability to just live on the stage, so that every word, every gesture is fresh and genuine. Kathra Alexander is hilarious as Wendel's mother Reba in the early scenes and haunted in the later scenes. The ease with which she plays puts an audience at ease so that the play can be absorbed. In Alexander's deft hands, Reba is a character to love, and her stubborn loss is made understandable, even if it is undesirable. Bernie Hall is fantastic as Wendel's authoritarian father, Bailey, who changes in the play, into a warm and supporting friend to his dying son. Tonya D. White is a bundle of electricity, as Reba's side-kick, a neighbor lady who is part of the family. She delivers some great punch-lines with the perfect throwaway touch, and gets every laugh. Abdel Luis Rodriguez, as Douglas, Wendel's male lover, creates a Gay character without resorting to stereotyping, and the result is fresh and revealing. Alan Motley delivers a whole person in the short role of Junior, Wendel's older brother, and Kevin "KJ" Thomas, Jr. plays Wendel's young son, giving the character immediacy and street smarts. Tammy Shadair, as Doctor and Stacie Ford-Bonnelle as Nurse make their stage debuts in this production, and make the most of their vignettes.

Avianca Walker's costumes are fun and true to each character. Reba's costumes are particularly wonderful. Awet Beraki's set design is primarily furniture, and he uses well-worn pieces that can be found in any middle class home. He creates several playing areas in his living room set, and places the hospital scenes in front of the stage, which is very effective. Brendon Orth-Sheridan's lights are subtle and moody, creating the right atmosphere for the play's evolution.

This play serves as a reminder to the LGBT community, that we still have a way to go to eliminate ignorance about AIDS. It is performed on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through March. In conjunction with Before It Hits Home, BROWNBOX is focused on AIDS awareness, and there is an interesting information table in the lobby on the development of an AIDS vaccine, which offers hope amidst the tragedy.

Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3:00 through this month. Brown Paper Tickets: 1-800-838-2006, www.brownpapertickets.com

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