Knock Me A Kiss | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Knock Me A Kiss 

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KNOCK ME A KISS, Victory Gardens Theater. Charles Smith's plays tend to work better as outlines than as dramas. In Freefall he dealt schematically with cops and drug pushers, and in Black Star Line he tackled the life of Marcus Garvey but without coming to terms with Garvey's contradictory life. W.E.B. DuBois played a supporting role in that story, and the pioneering intellectual and civil rights leader appears again in Smith's latest play. DuBois's daughter Yolande struggles between marrying the man her stern, preening father chooses for her--toadying Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen--and the man who loves her, a smooth-talking but good-hearted musician, Jimmy Lunceford. The familiar love-triangle setup promises at least an engaging soap opera. But Smith skimps on character development, and his dialogue has an uninspired fill-in-the-blanks quality. Yolande is particularly unsatisfying. Though her dilemma--whether to sacrifice her happiness for what her father sees as a higher good--is understandable, she comes off as spoiled and dull. A scene in which she attempts to entice Cullen into consummating their marriage--though he's admitted he's gay--strains credibility and is in questionable taste.

Chuck Smith's staging involves a surfeit of petulant arm folding and unnecessary stage crossing. Some of the Victory Gardens cast does a fair job of filling in the playwright's character sketches: Morocco Omari is particularly engaging as Lunceford, and Celeste Williams has some haunting moments as Yolande's mother. But in the end this is a fairly predictable melodrama that diminishes rather than humanizes the historical figures depicted.

--Adam Langer

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