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A CurtainUp Review
Hope Runs Eternal

Can't afford to have your ass getting wasted. At least not before the show. ---Club owner Mac explaining the order of things to singer Raymond

The problem with writing, starring in, and producing your own show is that there aren't a whole lot of people who can override your "creative" decisions. It's called a vanity project for good reason. Not that all such productions are destined to fail: Shakespeare filled the roles mentioned above with obvious success. Richard Brooks and his new play Hope Runs Eternal, however, probably aren't going to be mentioned in that august company anytime soon.

The play follows a struggling, not-so-young R & B club singer named Ray (Richard Brooks) as he attempts to break into the music business. It isn't an easy road, and Ray has many obstacles. His fiancé Elaine (Cynda Williams) has reached the end of her rope. Club owner Mac (Roger E. Mosley) is about to cut his act from weekly to monthly. His band hasn't been paid lately and is on the verge of quitting. Ray has also recently developed an ulcer (presumably from the stress, although that's not what causes ulcers).

Into this volatile mix comes Elaine's sister Hope (Victoria Platt Tilford), a famous and successful singer, claiming that she needs to get away for a couple of days and wants to seet her sister. She immediately tries to seduce Ray, and it turns out that not all is well in Hope's world.

The city of Los Angeles is filled with thousands of people like Ray -- throw a rock and you'll hit ten or twelve of them. Ray is a cliché but he's just one of many in this play. The dialogue is replete with phrases like "I got no schooling to fall back on except for the school of hard knocks," and "I need to work with hit-makers, not wannabes." The relationships between the characters aren't particularly original either. Elaine and Hope both sang in the choir, but only Hope chose to go pro; Elaine accuses Hope of always trying to steal what she has just to prove she can.

Another problem is that the play is too long (especially the second act). Scenes that should take one minute take five. Length in and of itself wouldn't be bad if there were a strong beginning to end dramatic buildup. Unfortunately Brooks lingers on the minutiae rather than the emotion of the characters. A concert scene at the end is not only superfluous but unfortunately underlines the mediocrity of Brooks' voice and song writing skills. I can buy that Ray isn't supposed to be that great of a singer, but we don't really need four of his songs. There is one lovely number -- but that one is a duet between Hope and Elaine. Brook's Ray is also overshadowed by acting of the support players . Even though they aren't given a lot to work with, both Williams and Tilford bring a certain spark and life to the sisters . Mosley just plain steals the show as the gruff and practical club owner Mac (his character is really the only one that feels truly authentic).

Strangely, the play's occasional wild tonal shifts make for some of the more interesting moments; for example, early on in the play Ray immediately gives in to Hope's advances, which leads to instant dislike from the audience (the audience I was with loudly and immediately began muttering at Ray's betrayal). Though this isn't a well thought out character twist, Brooks follows this up with a soliloquy to the audience about how wrong he is to succumb which is surprising and effective in mollifying the audience's near universal outrage.

John Paul Luckenbach's set design is cleverly splits the stage into two distinct areas (the club, and Ray and Elaine apartment) by blending the features of one into the other and using different paint shades to distinguish boundaries. Musical equipment in the center of the stage works in both frames. The easy access between "locations" allows for one of the funnier scenes in the show in which Elaine describes how she earned the nickname "Insane Elaine" by and telling the story in her apartment while actually acting it out in the club.

It seems to me that that Brooks hasn't quite decided whether this play is a tragedy about someone who is realizing that his dreams aren't going to come true, or a comedy about a hapless singer getting caught up in the machinations of his finance's wild sister. If it's both, then Brooks hasn't figured out how to walk the line between the two ideas.

HOPE RUNS ETERNAL
Playwright:Richard Brooks
Director: Donald Douglass
Cast: Richard Brooks (Raymond), Roderick Garr (Johnny), Trisha Mann (Waitress/Groupie), Roger E. Mosely (Mac), Abdul Salaam El Razaac (Keyboardist), Victory Platt Tilford (Hope), Cynda Williams (Elaine)
Set Design:John Paul Luckenbach
Costume Design: Naila A. Sanders
Lighting Design: Nerissa Williams
Sound Design: Bruce Yauger and Tony Carr
Musical Director: Anthony Williams
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission
The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center
4718 W. Washington Blvd., LA, CA 90016
310-773-8373
www.nhpac.com From 3/11/06 to 4/9/06;
Thur./Fri./Sat. @ 8pm, Sun. @ 3pm (dark 4/2/06)
$25 - $50
Reviewed by David Avery based on 3/11/06 performance
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