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.