YELLOWMAN, Next Theatre Company. Dael Orlandersmith’s play examines color distinctions within the black community that favor the light skinned. She also alludes to problems of gender: every man portrayed is contemptible. Even the title character, a golden boy who inherits wealth as well as light skin, comes to a bad end. Next Theatre’s production amplifies this feminist slant by casting a brilliant actress and a merely competent actor.
Each plays multiple roles, but primarily Eugene and Alma, lovers star-crossed by their oppositions: light/dark, rich/poor, north/south, town/country. The first act establishes their love and the second destroys it, as others turn these differences into insuperable barriers. But the playwright overplays her hand, abandoning naturalism for stereotyped violence. When an act begins like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? it shouldn’t end like Psycho.
Director Chuck Smith presents the work with admirable clarity and simplicity. Jacqueline Williams has a superbly flexible voice and mobile face: her opening monologue establishes that she can play Alma, Alma’s mother, and anyone else she chooses. Williams inhabits each character so completely that the stage seems fuller when she’s on it alone than when she shares it with her costar. Jason Delane has an innocent appeal as Eugene and does a workmanlike job as the other men but never manages to find the right voice for Eugene’s mother. Though he adequately distinguishes the characters, Williams’s portrayals are nonpareil.