Friday, May 27, 2016

Review: Harry and the Thief: An interesting take on history...

By Kaila M. Stokes

It is always a thrill to see a show that takes history and messes with it. The “what if” question is one of the reasons that theater so addicting. Harry and the Thief, by Sigrid Gilmer produced by the Habitat, at the Robert Moss Theater did just that….What if we sent someone back in time to give Harriet Tubman guns to start a race war? The show is purposely over the top and askew.  Director Katie Lindsay has some innovative and clever ideas throughout the piece.
How Harry and the Thief is contrived is that Mimi, played by Shelley Fort, is a troubled kid and her cousin Jeremy, played by Larry Owens, bails her out. In return, she must get in the time machine he built and travel back to give Harriet Tubman guns to start a race war so Jeremy can rule the world and enslave white people. From the beginning, the audience is asked to have a very open mind. History takes us on this journey commenting on an MC mic in elaborate and sexy outfits that one wishes they could wear on the daily. Writer Sigrid Gilmer has some great one-liners and kept the audiences’ laughter sustained throughout. It is a two-hour piece without an intermission, but it does not have to be. The story and hilarity would have been just as successful with some unnecessary moments cut out and, most of all, utilizing History better.
History, played by Mieke D, is extremely quirky, snarky, and witty as she walks us through this imaginary world of “what if.” There were certain times when it seemed History could have been better utilized both with staging and line placement. It would have been more creative if she helped create and evolve the worlds that the characters switch in and out of. Sometimes set pieces would move in order to let the audience know it was a different place. If History had been a part of the movement in these scenes, it would have been clearer to the audience exactly how she was medaling in everyone’s destiny.
There was an added theatricality and utilization of song and uniformed movement that was an exceptional surprise. Harriet Tubman, played by Ngozi Anyanwu, signaled to other slaves through a song when they were ready to escape. They, on the adventure of the escape, performed a solider-like march to show travel and undertaking. The most innovative staging was the standing lamps without shades. Each actor had one when they moved through the night on their escape. They used them as trees, bushes, and other forestry objects to hide. It was such a beautiful use of light and movement.  The lighting (Designed by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew) for the show helped tremendously when the worlds changed. There was also a green strip light that surrounded the stage and signified the changing of worlds. The glow created a beautiful hue on stage that lit the audience and actors perfectly. The set (Designed by Lawrence E. Moten III)  was minimal and the back of the stage was designed with huge bookshelves that had an array of items on them. It was exciting to see this in the beginning because it seemed like the possibilities were endless, but it was never used in the show. What a missed opportunity.
There were a lot of genres of theater jammed into one show.  Harry and the Thief is a drama, comedy, musical, farce, and an avant garde piece. A staging choice that was extremely resented was the fact that some things were mimed and some things were not. This was frustrating to watch and perhaps one huge flaw in the entire show. Some choices were set in concrete reality while others were so far removed from anything to do with the show. There were a couple of times when the actors broke out of character as part of the show – these moments were unnecessary and did not move along the plot in any shape or form. In fact, it took away from the overall message of the show.
Harry and the Thief is quite enjoyable and a funny commentary reminding us that, although slavery and white power seems to have gone away, it may not be as far you think. It was a good way to laugh at such a serious and present issue.  With some edits and better utilization of set and certain characters, Harry and the Thief, has the potential to be a phenomenal drama, comedy, musical, farce, and an avant garde piece.