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SPEED OF DARK American Repertory Theatre of WNY/Compass Performing Arts Center
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Sep 16, 2021, 12:08
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Through October 2
SPEED OF DARK American Repertory Theatre of WNY/Compass Performing Arts Center

Mark Humphrey is taking a new look at an old American institution, the sundown town, in “Speed of Dark.”
That’s a community where if you are Black, you better be out of town by sundown, with North Tonawanda said to be on the list.
Actually, it could be more than a town, with Forsyth County just outside Atlanta a sundown county until pretty recently.
The local playwright is also confronting tensions inside the Black community itself, as he looks at a painting crew of three Black workers and an Indian boss who don’t pay enough attention to the time one Halloween and discover they are stuck inside their job site after dark in a sundown town.
Outside, where their transportation is parked is a raucous party with some breaking windows in the building in which they are working.
Humphrey says this takes place in the late 70’s, somewhere in the US, so there is no fall back to a cell phone and the phone in the room in which they are working isn’t connected.
Instead, they fall back on plotting and planning and sniping at each other, while worrying about what happens if the crowd outside surges inside to see what’s going on or to rob what seems to be a pawnshop downstairs and how to flee, without being lynched.
Three Black guys, old-timer Richard (Hugh Davis), the angry David (Vincenzo L. McNeill), youngster Gerry (Quentin Gray) and Indian boss Dev (Monish Bhattacharayya).
David dominates because he’s visibly angry and McNeill knows how to use his large body to push his point of view.
Richard is the intellectual, with a secret against Army veteran David, and a sense of the larger picture of the Jim Crow South still around them.
Gerry is a kid who wants a job and large-scale painting came along and then he has to listen to the older guys dealing with issues he doesn’t really understand.
Dev just wants the job done, while knowing his status as dark-skinned in the South means many people might make assumptions about him, based on skin shade not origin or might not care.
While “Speed of Dark” actually isn’t very long, at a listed 90-minutes, it feels longer, as the struggle about how to escape drags on.
The best moments are Richard and David’s confrontations, particularly over his former job as a uniformed store security guard, and Dev’s attempts to get the job done and then to make the other three realize he has some of the same problems of color and, perhaps, class.
Are many of the issues old?
They are, while continuing a half-century later.
That’s where much of the show makes some strong points, with Gerry filling in for today’s young people who may not be aware of many of the key facts of the show.
It particularly works well on Bill Baldwin’s set, reminding me of how to get drywall and drywall mud to work on old walls in old buildings.
Maybe that’s symbolic of old and surviving issues still debated today.
There are really strong moments in this show, particularly the work of McNeill and Davis.
This is a time when we look into the shadows of the American past and Humphrey shines a light with “Speed of Dark,” a necessary light.

A.W.

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