Review: 'Neat' at the IRT

Millicent Wright stars in Charlayne Woodard's show about a spunky young African-American girl dealing with everything from high school flirtations to a terrified bus ride trying to get a baby to a "negro" hospital. Photo by Julie Curry

3 stars

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.



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