Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

Focus on immigrants evokes tears, laughs at A.C.T.

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

Alfred (Carl Lumbly) and his live-in caregiver, Maria (Greta Wohlrabe), share a moment of sheer joy in “Let There Be Love.” Photo by Kevin Berne

Donnetta Lavinia Grays portrays an angry lesbian daughter, Gemma, in “Let There Be Love.” Photo by Kevin Berne.

As I left the American Conservatory Theatre’s “Let There Be Love,” I noticed an unusual number of men dabbing tears from their eyes with hankies.

Some openly.

But most, a bit embarrassed, swiped surreptitiously. Or prayed no one would witness their glistening cheeks.

Earlier, I’d seen the same guys rolling with laughter.

Stirring work by three actors and inspired writing by British playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah are the reasons why.

And classic jazz recorded by singer-pianist Nat King Cole — juxtaposed with smile-inducing moments triggered by Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and calypso champion Lord Invader — becomes the superglue that binds characters in the new A.C.T. comic family drama in San Francisco.

Cole’s lyrics particularly enhance the action at critical moments.

The setting — including intentionally mismatched wallpaper — is a contemporary London home that’s grown a tad shabby.

From neglect.

Attention is paid only a wood cabinet-enclosed gramophone that Alfred (an ill-tempered, seriously sick West Indian elder who emigrated to England four decades before) lovingly calls Lily.

Plus an oversized globe that houses a well-stocked liquor bar.

Alfred, in a masterfully sensitive yet nuanced performance by Carl Lumbly, has antagonized his estranged wife and both of his daughters — including Janet, the absent “born-again nut” and mother of his mixed-race grandson, and Gemma, the present but unhappy lesbian (played with appropriate anger by Donnetta Lavinia Grays).

The former goatherd and hospital porter regrets his distancing actions but feels powerless to fix what occurred long ago.

Enter Maria, a young, boyfriend-abused Polish immigrant who becomes Alfred’s caregiver, confidant, nurse, cook, friend and surrogate daughter.

Greta Wohlrabe, whose elastic face runs an expressive gamut that’s never unconvincing or mawkish, is impeccable in that demanding role.

Her solo dancing spurts are highlights, too.

Director Maria Mileaf — differing from most plays staged in the Bay Area (and anywhere else, in fact) — makes sure there are no slack spots in “Let There Be Love.”

No lagging whatsoever. No watch checking.

And no dropped accents.

Alfred isn’t above dropping an occasional f-bomb, though. The word, he insists, “brings a wonderful clarity to my…sentences.”

The play manages to cover a lot of ground in two hours: racial bitterness, social change, end-of-life dignity, redemption — and trips to both the local Ikea and faraway Granada.

While the first act of “Let There Be Love” offers mostly laughs, the second switches into a touchstone of courage and forgiveness.

The climax of the play, which I felt was now and then a bit too pat, is astoundingly sentimental.

But it’s also astoundingly poignant, the very definition of moving.

Which explains why the hankies came out.

Including mine.

“Let There Be Love” plays at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco, through May 2. Night performances: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Matinees: 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $20 to $85. Information: 1-415-749-2228 or www.act-sf.org

Contact Woody Weingarten at voodee@sbcglobal.net or check out his blog at www.vitalitypress.com

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