By David Walters
NEC has been bringing black theater artists together with black audiences since 1967, a company that has changed the theatrical landscape in this country and the world.
Unentitled, their newest offering, takes place in a National Register of Historic Places site developed the the African American community. During the latter part of the 1940s African-American families began purchasing property for summer retreats east of Sag Harbor called Azurest. Middle class families, barred from getting construction loans, built the summer cottages themselves on large lots alternating home sites with lots deliberately left empty. Lot buyers were doctors, business owners, lawyers, academics, and artists.
It’s summer 2008 at 37 Bittersweet Lane in Azurest, the 3rd generational home of brother and sister Ben Walters (Gil Tucker) and Deanna Walters Saunders (Kenya Wilson). Barack Obama is giving his acceptance speech and the country is in the beginnings of a recession. Deanna’s lawyer husband Frank Saunders (Tomike Ogugua) has been let go from his job, and as he was basically the only source of income, there is concern about what will happen to the family identity as well as their holdings. Ben and Frank want to sell the summer home and relieve the financial pressure, but Deanna is dead set against that plan as the house is part of her identity. Frank’s mother Alice (Leah Finnie), who is visiting and has also been enjoying the property through the years since her son married into the family, tries her best to bring a semblance of sanity to the situation. The conflict reaches a peak when a family revelation brings an unknown component into the mix that completely alters the idea of what family is.
Unentitled is a kitchen sink (or in this case summer deck) drama that is lagging in force and drive and feels like a ride in a stick-shift car with a new driver behind the wheel. Occasionally the gears mesh, but mostly it’s a lurching, chugging type of ride. Leah Finnie does provide smooth cruising as she guides a lovely scene with Adrain Washington that makes the ride worthwhile. I wish there were more such moments.
There’s something not quite right with the production, something happened in translation, that despite all the hard work by the actors, it doesn’t know what it really is.
One hour, forty-five minutes including one intermission.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.