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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 2, 2000

ACT tackles subject of race

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


RACE relations in the American South is the common denominator as Army Community Theatre complements its revival of "Big River" with "Readers Theatre" performances of "So Long on Lonely Street."

An engaging young lead and a strong cast makes "Big River" an entertaining return to the antebellum Mississippi River milieu of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."


Bullet "Big River": Richardson Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays through March 11. Tickets $12 and $15 adults, $6 and $8 for keiki. Call 438-4480. Also: "So Long on Lonely Street": 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $6

Joseph Morales brings a strong voice and confident presence to the role of Huck. Gemini Burke (Jim) adds strength, dignity and a powerful voice to the key role of the runaway slave who teaches Huck important lessons about brotherhood across racial lines.

Director Glenn Cannon has a talented supporting cast. Foremost is Broadway vet Jim Hutchison who appears in two key roles. He's first seen as Huck's brutal father, Pap Finn, and adds hints of humanity to one of Twain's most unsavory characters. Hutchison makes "Guv'ment," Pap's rant against society, an early highlight in Act I.

Hutchison returns in fine style as The King, a con man who claims to be the long-lost Louis XVII of France. He has a fine second in Derrick Kam, who also does a great job as an amoral actor/con man. Hutchison, Kam and Morales mesh perfectly in making "When the Sun Goes Down in the South" a rousing conclusion to Act I.

There's more. David Jackson (A Young Fool) is convincing in reflecting Twain's contempt for the masses with "Arkansas." Nicole Johnson (Mary Jane Wilkes) touches the heart singing "Leavin's Not the Only Way to Go" with Morales and Burke.

Allison Maldonado delivers one of the key vocal performances in Act I as the lead voice in a group of anonymous slaves (Vakisha Coleman, Gwen Johnson and Heather Ensley-Bruce Maldonado) singing "The Crossing." Johnson later has a fine solo in "How Blest We Are."

Lina Jeong Doo (musical director) does justice to the Roger Miller country-lite score; Burke's magnificent solo "Free at Last" caps the show; and "Waitin' for the Light to Shine" and "Muddy Water" are also notable.

Tom Giza (set design) has done a fine job recreating the swamps and watercraft.


RACE relations also play a central role in Sandra Deer's "So Long on Lonely Street," the story of a dysfunctional Southern family brought together by the death of an elderly aunt.

It is no secret that Annabel Lee (Jo Pruden) is the illegitimate black half-sister of the deceased and may therefore be in line to inherit the family estate ahead of the younger white members of the family.

Can Annabel prove she is the daughter of the late Big Jack Vaughnum and inherit the property before Vaughnum's grandson, King Vaughnum III (Richard Pellett), sends her to a "home" and turns the property into a shopping mall?

Shari Lynn is excellent in double roles of narrator and the younger Vaughnum's wife. She uses different voices to define the roles; her facial expressions and posture add to her portrayal of the pregnant wife.

Dion Donahue (Raymond) and Kathe James (Ruth) are the twins with a shared secret of their own: Donahue and James successful suggest more about what that secret may be than the dialogue confirms.

Pellett adds another effective performance to his resume as their devious and ambitious cousin. Pruden plays Annabel Lee without any suggestion of a regional black accent.

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