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THE KING OF CAGE STREET

THE KING OF CAGE STREET

By Michael Oatman

MBS Productions

Directed by Mark-Brian Sonna
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Sarah Nichole Thompson
Costumes & Sound Design: Mark-Brian Sonna
Lighting & Set Design: Alejandro de la Costa
Box Office Manager: Kim & Cory Wickware

CAST
D-Bear: Sean Massey
Dime: Jamison Michael Green
Skully: Gerald Taylor II
Rio/Rossdale: Christopher Thomas


Reviewed Performance: 4/7/2018

Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

MBS Productions is now presenting the world premiere of up-and-coming playwright Michael Oatman’s The King of Cage Street at the Stone Cottage Theatre in Addison. Oatman holds the unique honor of succeeding Langston Hughes as Playwright-in-Residence at Karamu Theater, the country’s oldest African American theater.

The titular Cage Street is in a rough East Cleveland neighborhood. The eponymous King is D-Bear (Sean Massey), an ex-con who has managed to purchase, and struggles to pay the mortgage on three properties. D-Bear’s real estate holdings fail to impress his half-brother, Rio (Christopher Thomas), who visits from Chicago. “This place is a junkyard for broken people,” Rio observes.

D-Bear rents apartments and runs a landscaping and reclamation business, paying his workers in cash. He works hard himself; when we first meet him, he is sporting an aching back from a crash at a work site. In this opening scene Dime (Jamison Michael Green), a character based on the non-fictional person who inspired this fictional play, makes a dramatic entrance with her own work-related injuries. Dime is a trans prostitute, and we learn that her former pimp, from whom D-Bear rescued her, was worse than the abusive johns. As D-Bear applies ice and rubbing alcohol, we see that Dime is both a tenant and friend.

D-Bear describes Dime as “Beyoncé with a dick and swollen feet.” Dime takes that as a compliment. Assisted by a colorful series of hooker-to-good-girl costumes – but never without her signature red platform stilettos – Dime careens between sass and sorrow, paradoxically adorable in a Meg Ryan rom com blonde wig. [Green’s legs are glorious, BTW.]

The audience sees and hears ample evidence of how brutal life is for Dime. But more than anything, the disconnect between Dime’s grim reality and her dreams is most obvious from the effervescent smile that transforms her face in response to D-Bear’s kindness. Oatman scripts a tricky soliloquy, which Green exquisitely delivers, on the plight of fellow hooker Crystal. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought (OK, cared) about the life of an on-the-street sex worker before.

D-Bear’s other closest friend is his regular employee Skully (Gerald Taylor II). Taylor delivers a precisely honed performance of a self-proclaimed “wino” who is proud that worse monkeys are off his back. One highlight is a marvelous soliloquy in which Taylor’s Skully pronounces the divine value of the handyman; it is as funny as it is true.

There is no shortage of laughter here, and Taylor and Massey particularly earn laughs in a bit of gallows humor culminating in the line, “Oprah is quality television.” Trust me, it’s funny, and the jokes are consistently original.

The characters’ easy laughter, and the context in which these laughs frequently arise, remind me of a saying I often heard in my childhood when brought to the “wrong side of the tracks” [seriously, there were railroad whistles all night], visiting poor relations: “I’m gonna laugh or I’m gonna cry.” This play rings true.

The Stone Cottage provides an intimate space, placing the audience right in D-Bear’s shabby residence. His walls are lined with an assortment of tools and supplies: a ladder, traffic cones, paint, and extension cords snaking out of card board boxes.

The ravages of poverty and urban blight prey upon Oatman’s characters. Past injuries, physical and psychological, are a recurring theme. Beatings, bullet holes, crashes and/or addiction have befallen all on Cage Street.

The production serves up ample food for thought. What does it mean to “be a man,” and does there comes a point when the very question fades into irrelevance? Four of the five characters discuss their time in prison. But was that physical “cage” more debilitating than the drugs, drug dealing, and violence that preceded it? The ex-cons have turned their lives around (chess and the prison library get some credit). Yet, through all that they have survived, D-Bear and his old nemesis Rossdale (a hulking Thomas) struggle with the belief that they have rotted rather than changed.

This talented cast does justice to a provocative, smart, and funny script. In addition to the gravitas of Green and Taylor, Thomas’ Rio easily transitions from menace to concerned brother. The play focuses on Massey’s D-Bear. At the end, with the spotlight on him, Massey thoroughly convinces. I am not sure if D-Bear is more stubborn or just worn out. Either way, Massey delivers a sympathetic lens through which the victims of urban blight and poverty may be viewed.

The audience must get past the frequent, offensive language, which in context presumably is intended to be realistic rather than to offend. And, if you are in the mood for fluff and allergic to “gritty,” then this is not the theater experience for you. That said, I highly recommend this production for the weighty performances, great laughs, and memorable characters.

THE KING OF CAGE STREET
Mark-Brian Sonna Productions
Through April 21, 2018
Stone Cottage Theatre at the Addison Conference and Theatre Center
15650 Addison Road (facing Addison Circle Drive), Addison, TX 75001
For information and Tickets call 214-477-4942 or go to http://www.mbsproductions.net/tickets/kingofcagesttickets.html.
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