Indiana Repertory Theatre, Upperstage; Through March 6.
Directed by Richard J. Roberts. IRT opened its Going Solo Festival Friday night with the continuation of one of the 2010 festival’s one-actor shows, Pretty Fire.
This one, also written by actress/playwright Charlayne Woodard and also starring Millicent Wright, takes us back to Woodard’s early life, growing up in 1960s New York state, an African-American girl spunky enough to fit in with Jewish schoolmates, even when swim class turns her “flip” into a ’fro.
More than anything about the play or performance, I was continually fascinated by Robert M. Koharchik’s scenic design, which will be used for all three Going Solo plays. A dark wood plank floor runs front to back and curves up to create the back wall. It is at once welcoming and off-putting.
Wright uses this brilliant space to conjure a terrified bus ride to get a baby to a “negro” hospital, high school flirtations and police violence against black youth. However, the play relies mostly on Wright’s ability to replicate the girl’s boundless enthusiasm, as well as the impenetrable innocence of her mentally disabled cousin called Neat.
While this seemed good enough for the audience last Friday and last year, to me both Woodard plays feel too much like cultural/historical tourism. More quaint than insightful, Neat fails to make the very real connection between Woodard’s past and our present.