“Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous”
Hartford Stage is currently presenting a wildly entertaining and insightful production of Pearl Cleage’s enjoyable play, “Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous.” In the show, the character of Anna Campbell (portrayed by the wonderful Terry Burrell), an actress who has taken a 25 year self-imposed exile abroad, has returned to Atlanta to reenact her controversial solo performance—called “Naked Wilson”—as the centerpiece of an arts festival. Without giving too much away, things don’t exactly work out as planned for Anna and the play goes forward in extremely surprising and unexpected ways. In “Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous,” the playwright has written four excellent African American roles for women and all of these parts are skillfully enacted by an expert quartet of actresses in this production at Hartford Stage.
This play is filled with a great deal of laughter and potent comedy, but Cleage is also making a statement of how African American women are portrayed and, ultimately, who gets to tell their story. Director Susan V. Booth has done an excellent job staging this show, which runs about an hour and forty minutes, with no intermission. She has also elicited definitive performances by all the members of the cast. In a way, “Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous” turns out to be the ideal name for this play, since it is filled with all of these qualities and much more. By all means, get to Hartford Stage to see this vastly terrific show, which is certain to provide a great deal of mirth as well as revelations into the lives of the four women in the play.
Taking place on a luxurious set of a hotel suite, beautifully designed by Collette Pollard, the play begins with Anna preparing to bring her solo act back after a long hiatus. The name of her performance is “Naked Wilson” and, in it, Anna performs monologues, which August Wilson originally wrote for male characters in his plays, while she is completely in the nude. Terry Burrell is pretty great in the role and it must be stated, for those wondering, that the audience never actually sees this performance enacted. Still, this solo piece is at the very center of the play. As Anna’s friend and confidante, Marva Hicks plays the role of Betty and she is a load of fun, and she dispenses a great deal of good advice, as well.
Also in the play is the Atlanta arts festival coordinator Kate, performed ideally by Cynthia D. Barker, as well as a fourth character, Precious “Pete” Watson (the fiery Shakirah Demesier), who is the catalyst in upending everything Anna has planned in the show. How these women interact with each other is a real joy and, since the playwright has written such distinct and unique characters, to watch them bounce off each other is a sight to behold. Costume designer Kara Harmon has provided wonderful costumes for each of these women, and these designs also help to bring to life each of these individual’s personalities. “Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous” is a show that manages to get better and better as it goes along and there are plenty of delights, as well as all-out conflicts, to be had in this production.
In addition to scoring mightily with all of the performers, the director work terrifically with her designers, as well, with excellent lighting design by Michelle Habeck and the sound design by Clay Benning is clear as a bell, resulting in a very satisfying and hilarious moment at the very end of the show. Still, I would hate to give anything away in this play, because the twists and turns in “Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous” are really something to see. Suffice it is to say, though, that you will fall in love with these four fantastic women in the play, making “Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous” at Hartford Stage an absolute must-see.
“Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous” runs through February 6, 2022, at Hartford Stage, in Hartford, CT. For information and tickets, please visit http://www.hartfordstage.org.
Photo: (L-R): Terry Burrell, Marva Hicks, Shakirah Demesier, and Cynthia D. Barker
Photo by T. Charles Erickson