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  • Writer's pictureJames Sheldon

Reparations Unloads Surprises But Avoids Moral

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Keith Powers, Correspondent at Metro West Daily News 9/10/21

Treachery, bombshell disclosures and unexpected confrontations - James Sheldon’s “Reparations” explodes stereotypic racial differences into a supercharged conflict, eventually making those differences seem like an afterthought.

The Gloucester Stage Company presents “Reparations” on the outdoor stage at the Windhover Performing Arts Center in Rockport through Sept. 19, '21. The play opened in 2019 in Brooklyn’s Billie Holiday Theatre - notable because that made Sheldon the first playwright of non-African descent to contribute to the Billie’s storied five-decade history.

Jason Bowen, Malcom Ingram, Lisa Tharps and Angela Pierce in Reparations. Photo by Jason Grow

Myriam Cyr directs, in her GSC debut, steering each thunderbolt from Sheldon’s insightful script for maximum impact. Sheldon’s taut four-hander - two Black and white couples, out-doing each other’s revelations with unexpected revelations of their own - starts unexceptionally.

Reg (Jason Bowen) meets Ginny (Angela Pierce) at a book signing, and they flirt their way to her apartment for a tryst. A sexy evening follows - not without a few personal pokes about race (she’s white, he’s Black) - but seemingly nothing apart from normal lusty adult adventures.

But things are not normal. The morning after pivots sharply on disclosures from Reg. His history, and his Machiavellian intentions, then play out at brunch, when Ginny’s married friends Alistair (Malcolm Ingram) and Millie (Lisa Tharps) join the disturbingly tense situation.

Reg’s ambitions as an author, Ginny’s access as an agent, and Alistair’s prestige as a publisher play out over even more complex recriminations, and stunning common entanglements.

There is no sense spoiling Sheldon’s gigantic plot revelations - gasps from the audience showed they were effective and dynamic. All four characters get the chance to confront past injustices done to them, but nobody welcomes the opportunity without equivocation.

Characters paint themselves into a corner - Reg righteously threatens to write a scandalous exposé unless his novel gets published, only to find Ginny and Alistair encouraging him to write it anyway.

The sets (Jon Savage) aptly depicted a tony upper East Side apartment. Music - American soul and swing, with sound design by Veronica Barron and Christopher Vu - sounded sweet, but felt ironic. Costumes (Deirdre McCabe Gerrard) were urban professional, enlivened extraordinarily by Millie’s native Nigerian dress.

The four actors shone. For a “talky” play, there was significant intimacy and threatened physical violence, and the actors made those moments seem natural, unforced. They were all given dialogue that made them sound smart, but a bit delusional. Nobody acts heroically, although they all suppose they would. The quartet was well matched.

“Reparations” unloads one surprise after another, but avoids any moral.

The end is a refreshing denouement, sidestepping all the hyper-tense revelations. If there is an argument in “Reparations,” it’s probably still going on. If someone felt like a winner, they were fooling themselves.

Some conflicts aren’t decided, just abandoned.

You can read the article at Metro West Daily News here

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