Contemporary American Theater Festival 2018: 4

Providing an origin story for a prison work song (Berta, Berta) is a wobbly foundation for a full-length play. The actors are skilled and committed (Jason Bowen as the haunted Leroy and Bianca Laverne Jones as Berta); the stakes are high (a murder); the dressing of Luciana Stecconi’s set is first rate; but there’s something missing. Perhaps the piece relies too much on Leroy’s tell-not-show accounts of why he’s on the run, and of the heavy injustice laid on him that was the driver of events. It’s a risky business to suggest recasting an artistic work into another medium, but opening up this play as a film would strengthen the story that it wants to tell.


Playwright C. A. Johnson says her program interview,

Maybe Thirst is about politics, maybe it’s about gender, maybe it’s about special preferences, maybe it’s all of these things… or maybe, it’s just a play about how hard it is to let go.

And it’s the play’s stubborn refusal to decide what it wants to be about that is a challenge. Once again, the stakes are high: in a post-apocalyptic landscape still bursting with violence, Samira (Monet) and Greta (Jessica Savage) care for their adopted son Kalil (newcomer Jalon Christian). The local warlord Terrance (Ryan Nathaniel George) has risen to power because he controls the water supply, and water in this community is a precious resource indeed. The rub: Terrance and Samira were once married, and his entrails are still consumed with rage that she is now with Greta. Is is because Greta is a woman? Because she is white? Or just because she is someone else? Terrance is incapable of telling us.

Terrance explodes with gunplay, against his better judgement and surely not in the best interests of his people or himself. (A leader with doubtful skills, thrust onto the public stage, behaving irrationally to a bizarre degree? Why, that would—oh, never mind.)

There is a loose end introduced towards the end of the play, that is never picked up or resolved, i.e., a suggestion that the water supply has been contaminated.

Jessica Savage has the juicy opportunity to show us how excruciating it is to suffer a close-range gunshot wound, and she makes the most of it.

  • Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • Berta, Berta, by Angelica Chéri, directed by Reginald L. Douglas
  • Thirst, by C. A. Johnson, directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
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