Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A.’s world premiere of The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King by Andrew Dolan is a very well placed step toward keeping the essence of important theatre alive. At rise Janine (beautiful Judith Moreland) addresses the audience: a lecture hall full of students who may (or most likely may not) have done their homework. She discusses the essential job of the Chorus in Greek Drama and in so doing, she acts, at least in part, as the Chorus herself.
Dolan’s play is about race. The title of the play mirrors the title of a novel written by the maverick college professor, Simon, intensely portrayed by Philip Casnoff. The book, also provocative, discusses the indiscretions of Reverend King through the eyes of his paramours.
Director, Rod Menzies’s, gentle hand elicits the best from his players. A fine cast brings the text to life. They embody their characters beautifully. The only problem with the script has to do with time. In the first scene we discover the relationship between Simon and the terrific Tracey A. Leigh as Lashawna in full bloom. Then, oddly, with a scene change, student Lashawna arrives at the professor’s home to turn in a late assignment. Flashbacks and oddly disjointed scenes eventually come together, but the linear pathway has been abandoned, leaving the audience to do more work than might be necessary. Not that a challenge to chronological order is a bad thing, but in a couple of circumstances, figuring out Who’s on First becomes the focus when in a more linear presentation, the basic argument might have made more sense. It seemed to be a device for the sake of the device. Though the considerable age difference between Lashawna and Simon might have some tongues wagging, the fact that Lashawna is a black woman and Simon is white man might also add to the chatter.
Time slips and slides. Two couples, Lashawna married to Simon and Janine to Augustus (Carlos Carasco) are all teachers at an unnamed university. They socialize. In a minor subplot, Simon’s teen daughter, lost to divorce, is drawn to Janine and Augustus’s twenty year old son. Friction regarding race and stereotypes emerges with the introduction into the household of Lashawna’s brother, Anquan (Theo Perkins), an aspiring basketball player and petty thief.
This is a heady play with ironic twists and turns, mostly well laid out. Though not impossible to follow, references to the assassination of MLK in 1968 and Simon’s book coinciding with his book tour regarding the supposed sexual dalliances that the Civil Rights leader climax with heavy emotional results.
Excellent set by scenic designer, Tom Buderwitz. Well executed lighting by J. Kent Inasy.
The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King
By Andrew Dolan
Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A.
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Atwater Village, CA 90039
Through April 29, 2012
www. ensemblestudiotheatrela. org
Phone 323 644 1929