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Stage Review: New Horizon breaks from family-friendly tradition with 'Nevis Mountain Dew'

Friday, October 01, 1999

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Black theater has a long and healthy tradition of grass roots volunteerism and of taking its message to the people in ways that are often overlooked or deemed unnecessary by mainstream theater groups.

    'Nevis Mountain Dew'

Where: East Liberty Lutheran Church, 5707 Penn Ave.

When: Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through Oct. 17.

Tickets: $10 or $15; 412-431-0773.


Frequently that includes producing plays with strong social messages in church social halls. Although the morals to the stories are often predictable -- substance abuse is dangerous; domestic violence is wrong; fathers should remain involved in their children's lives -- they often lead to a conclusion that in some way strengthens the family unit. It's an admirable form, sometimes done extremely well, that should be visited more often by audiences of every kind.

New Horizon Theater's current production at the East Liberty Lutheran Church is a riveting, well-penned drama that, nevertheless, has little to do with any of the above.

Steve Carter's "Nevis Mountain Dew" breaks New Horizon's tradition at the church.

First, it offers the antithesis of a redeeming social message. Second, and more surprising, is the play's blatant adult content. There's nothing wrong with the strong sexual nature of the play, per se; in fact, it's a gripping adult drama. But it's questionable whether such a play belongs in a church on a Sunday afternoon, presented with no parental advisory. Ultimately, "Nevis Mountain Dew" is a story that could happen in any dysfunctional, perverse, extended adult family of self-centered jerks, black or white.

That said, artistic director Ernest McCarty and director David Minniefield make good use of limited budgetary, casting and stage resources in presenting Carter's controversial drama.

The story surrounds Jared, an upper-middle-class man confined to a respirator in a home he shares with his cheating wife and manipulative sisters. Floyd Navarro plays a surprisingly powerful central character in an unenviable role as a talking head sticking out of a metal drum, which serves as the respirator. Despite his lack of mobility and an unfortunate blocking oversight that further restricts visibility, Navarro commands attention in dialogue and delivers several extremely powerful monologues.

In her New Horizon debut, veteran actor Teri Bridgett is Billie, a former stripper with extremely personal reasons for not leaving her quadriplegic husband, despite being involved in a semi-public affair.

The combative sisters vie to turn Jared's paralysis and inevitable death to their advantage. Mayme A. Williams skillfully plays a selfish busybody who, lacking a life of her own, intrudes on the personal lives of those around her. ShaMeka Charnell Glaze is flat as the alcoholic sister.

New Horizon's hot new find, local poet B-Tree, is aggressive and believable as the alcoholic's married Jamaican love interest. Monn Washington, who directed the company's last show, has a strong and integral part as Billie's lover, Boise. In two difficult scenes, Washington shows his passionate character challenging, then backing down, in conversations with the paralyzed Jared. Nathan James has a limited role as Boise's friend.

The affair becomes an open secret as the whole group falls under the influence of the play's namesake, a particularly potent Jamaican rum. The crux of the story is revealed when we discover the dark reason Billie won't leave her husband. Although he's paralyzed, their bizarre sexual relationship continues in two extremely suggestive scenes. The perverse erotica provides a stunning hook to Carter's compelling script.

Good, gritty theater, but it was too much for a handful of children in the audience last week, whose parents probably expected more of the family-themed theater New Horizon has been bringing to the church. The kids laughed awkwardly during the dramatic sex scenes and giggled among themselves long afterward.

Greed? Drunkenness? Extra-marital affairs? Bizarre sex and a complete absence of a redeeming message? Two things are apparent: Carter wrote a powerful script, but audiences need to know what they're getting into.

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