Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another Triumph at Studio Roanoke

There was a point deep within the first act when I nearly lept to my feet to do my Kenley Smith Celebration Dance, the one that is warranted at some magical moment in every play he writes.

It was right there when Mary the Reverand's wife, playing Mary the mother of Jesus in the passion play, was explaining to Bobby Pence, who was playing Jesus in the passion play, what she liked about the Holy One. "When I pray, I see Jesus on a custom hard-tail" Harley-Davidson, she said. A few minutes later, Bobby Pence is trying to fight off the advances of Mary the Reverend's wife and escapes, saying, "God bless you and shit."

Somebody suggested that latter line should be a bumper sticker, sold to benefit Studio Roanoke where all this is taking place.

Kenley Smith's "12 Stations of the Cross" is the second in his Bobby Pence triology and the second installment brought back some of the key actors with their roles and combined them with fine new talent (including Rae Norton West, the wonderfully bawdy double Mary, who had been toiling in a children's play across the street when Kenley found her recently).

Also back in the role of Bobby Pence's executed-for-a-crime-he-thought-Bobby-commited brother Harleigh Pence is the fine actor Paul Stober of Lynchburg, whose underplayed presence is vital here, since Austin Alderman is a bit over the top--often shrill--as Bobby. There are times when Alderman is near perfect, as well, but those are the rare quiet moments. One moment in particular is almost distracting in its clumsiness: Bobby and potential love interest Veronica (played by promising Shonte Wilson, whom Kenley found at the Dumas Center in a play) share a tender moment, accentuated with a kiss. The kiss is so cold and so obviously difficult for the actors (lips closed, not puckered, limp, no emotion at all) that the scene is ruined. Open your mouths, kids, and kiss each other for Christ's sake.

The story is Bobby's battle with inner demons and Harleigh's post-death revelation to Bobby about his origins, which are as painful as the life he's been living.

In the hands of Kenley Smith and his keyboard, the characters are multi-dimensional, alive and people you care about--whether or not you like them. It is a fine second part to this series and we are left to ponder what mischief Kenley will delve into for Part III, coming in February as "The New Testament."

Another interesting element of this play is the 12 pieces of artwork commissioned for it, which are used with the theater's new projection system to great effect. The artworks are varied and always appropriate for the scenes they match (and they are for sale).

Once again, Studio Roanoke has taken a chance with an edgy, imaginative piece of theater and for at least one of us, it is a delight. Highly recommended (and cheap, brothers and sisters; cheap). The play runs at Studio Roanoke on Campbell Ave. through Nov. 7 at 8 each night, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

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