PLENTY OF TIME
By John Shévin Foster
Directed by Calvin J. Walker
Stage Managed by Olivia Dickerson
Sound Design by David Lanza
Lighting Design by Holli Price
Costume Design by Hope Cox
Scenic Design by Jeremy Davis
Christina - Mikaela Baker
Corey - Kyle Gardner
Reviewed Performance: 10/7/2022
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Once a year. 365 days. Fifty-two weeks. Twelve months. Four seasons. Year after year after year. It’s like an annual comet in the night sky. Such regularity! In the meantime, between those annual night visits, we live our lives day-by-day, thinking of yesterday, and looking forward to tomorrow. What could be so regular, yet so urgent, to keep an appointment every year?
Plenty of Time uses this idea to explore relationships. Penned by John Shévin Foster, artistic director of New Federal Theatre in New York and President of the Black Theatre Network National Conference, this story follows the annual reunion of Christina and Corey at a beach house in Martha’s Vineyard to retrace their chance encounter in 1968.
Is this annual meeting an affair? It began in the heady days when ’68 politics butted heads against economic royalty but somehow turned into a regular happening, like high school. It’s a unique concept, except it’s been done before.
Foster admits his muse was Bernard Slade's Same Time Next Year, not a copy, mind you, but essentially the same story set in an African American culture. Mr. Foster’s work focuses on representing that culture in artistic expression. This play is sometimes panned by critics for copying Slade’s story. “What’s the purpose? Why do it?” Those questions come from critics with no sense of artistic urge. “Why do it?” Why not! It’s a way to ask questions and express ideas about important issues in the guise of a relatable story. Why do it? For the same reason, I’ll have my Chai Tea today, again tomorrow, and the day after that. We, humans, do things frequently, and repetitively, even if someone else has done it.
Cristina (Mikaela Baker) just graduated from high school as a society debutante celebrating her escape into adulthood. Corey (Kyle Gardner) is 22 and has been part of the Black Panther experience in New York. They’re thrown together for a night in a beach-front house in Oak Bluffs on the northeast shore of Martha's Vineyard and discover a sexual excitement between vastly different people. In fact, it happens a lot in life but usually slips quickly into distant memories as the demands of life take over. Is this true love? Unlikely. Or maybe it’s a greater love than what we get in our daily lives. I’ll leave the moral aspect of it here – that’s for another discussion by someone else.
With a night of passion behind them, they face the morning of discovering who they are. And, as one may guess, there are vast differences, in their political views, social status, in the cost of keeping up appearances. You may think they’d enjoy the experience and move on. The normal path would see them separate, go live their lives, and forget this magical chance encounter. But, occasionally, something clicks beyond sex, beyond differences, despite conflicts. Is that love?
The annual return to the beach house begins as a way to rediscover that passion. An affair, yes, but for 43 years? Many marriages don’t last that long! What brings them back, year after year?
For the audience, this is a romp through the decades. I was two years out of high school. I lived through those turbulent events in the days of hippies, Vietnam marches, violent political rallies, and the AIDS epidemic. As the decades go by, more and more of the audience relates to the memories while watching Corey and Cristina explore themes of a half-century. In the meantime, they learn about what life is like for the rest of the year.
Cristina has a life many want to live, running with the elites, and having a comfortable life. As a teen in ‘68, this life-long comfort gives her a narrow worldview. She sees Corey as an introduction to adult sex, but in the light of day, cracks in the idyllic relationship force her to question his personality. Through the years as she matures, we see her struggle to find herself and deal with failure, and then success. Baker embraced this role as one who seemingly walks through similar minefields, making life choices, and looking for what’s important. Christina’s changes at each meeting showed growth through Baker’s willingness to stretch her physical, emotional, and subtextual chops. Baker may be advancing her professional experiences with this role, but her natural ability to play through many levels of human experience will make that trip a little easier – it really showed here.
Corey follows a life you’d guess from someone who started as a Panther, whether it’s political activism in a violent world, strife with relationships and life choices, the problems of marriage, or the realities of fatherhood. Most parents have an idealized wish for how it will be with their kids. It seldom works out that way. And the problems with parenting can override all other life goals. Gardner’s text showed a transformation from Corey as that idealistic Panther, ready to go to war with the Establishment, to going to war, to fighting overwhelming family issues. It seemed that each trip to the beach house shows Corey trying to recreate that initial encounter with a young girl, but the larger world problems he faces get in the way. Gardner leaned into those backstory issues as Cristina reads the signs and forced Corey to face them. In a scene of grief, Gardner let himself contract into an infantile ball. These are hard to mimic realistically. Gardner nailed it.
A two-person story comes from two individual performances, but the audience sees them as a couple. Through the 43 years of these characters’ relationship, though only once per year, Corey and Cristina were a couple, Baker and Gardner were too, facing the same complex dynamics as any couple. We relate to them and want them to survive. They worked well together. Each actor played their role but importantly gave each other space while allowing their story to breathe. It seemed they enjoyed the story they told, but also liked collaborating with each other. That was a big success for Baker and Gardner. It was also an achievement by Director Calvin J. Walker, who created a safe space for actors to explore the arcs of their characters while creating the arc of their actors’ relationships. This life transformation for the characters was more believable and acceptable, despite any possible moral judgments some may have because the actors found their transformations as actors.
Walker as director also created a team relationship that designed a space for this story to unfold. The one-piece set of the interior of a beach house with a small outdoor space made sure the 90-minute show could flow quickly with just a few quick adjustments to the room furnishings. Jeremy Davis’s set design was a realistic bedroom suite with a small bar, implying, but only suggesting, the sexual nature of the story, but providing space to play out the movement and levels needed to make the stage pictures interesting. The time seemed current and nothing much changed to mark the passing decades, save for a small change in telephone technology. Holli Price’s lighting plots were not complex but effectively provided for transitions and shifts from inside to outside the bedroom.
David Lanza’s sound design was outstanding. If you like music, especially if you lived through those decades, you’ll love his preshow and soundtrack across the decades from Motown to the early 2000s. Sound effects for this show provided the timekeeper for the story with set transition audio clips of news stories through the years, identifying recent historical events which set that year’s meeting in time. At my age, every one of those sounds was part of my history, reliving those where-were-you moments in life. With only a few obvious clues, these sounds were an inspired device to keep the story on its inevitable track.
Hope Cox did a great job of marking time with her choice of clothing, showing both the mental self-images of characters in each meeting and showing the time through types of clothes and hairstyles. One example was the use of bell-bottom pants for one year. I loved that the costumes, like sound and lights, were understated, almost unseen but highly effective. Costuming also provided touchpoints for some of the dialogs that pushes character buttons.
Director Walker had quite a challenge with this piece, as Foster did in writing it. It could’ve been a copy of a famous previous play and movie but set in Black culture. It could’ve bogged down with a series of morose historical events. It could’ve played out the divisive political differences or even boring life events from the characters’ other lives. But Walker supported the vision Foster had in writing this story by making it a universal documentary on real life. Walker provided his vision of making these characters and their relationship familiar to all of us. No doubt, no one in the audience couldn’t see themselves somewhere in this story.
Plenty of Time is not about politics or social differences or even daily struggles. It’s about love, across decades, and the loving support people can give to each other as they face all those issues. It’s a breath of positive hopeful fresh air in a fractured jaded world. I loved this story. And, in a slowly recovering live performance world, Plenty of Time at Jubilee is a great choice to get us back into the theater.
PLENTY OF TIME
506 Main St., Fort Worth, TX. 76012
Plays through October 30
Fridays: 8:00pm, Saturdays: 3:00pm & 8:00pm, Sundays: 3:00pm
General Admission tickets are $28 for Thurs & Matinees and $40 for Friday-Saturday nights.
High school & college students may purchase student tickets with ID for $15
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.Jubileetheatre.org or call (817) 338-4411.