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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 22, 2023

Tomike Ogugua and Kenya Wilson
Photo by Jonathan Slaff
Will blood turn out to be thicker than the waters that lap along a valuable Long Island beachfront property? That's the question raised in Charles White's Unentitled, a Negro Ensemble Company production opening today at 59E59 Theaters.

This is a fraught soap opera of a play, unevenly directed by Florante Galvez, that brings out the worst in an upper-middle class Black family, squabbling over their Sag Harbor summer retreat after the primary income earner loses his job during the challenging days of the 2008 recession.

The home is a refuge for Deanna Saunders (Kenya Wilson), for whom the property represents everything it means to have settled into the upscale lifestyle she deems to be her inheritance from her late physician father. That her husband Frank (Tomike Ogugua) is a successful Manhattan attorney shores up that lifestyle. Or it has, until he informs her that he has been laid off, an "expendable Black man," now in his fifties and fearful of finding another job.

Still, Frank, ever the manipulator, does have a solution in mind. He will reunite with his brother-in-law and one-time closest friend Ben (Gil Tucker) to resurrect their old plan to set up an agency to represent young Black athletes, starting with Ben's son, a star quarterback at Morehouse College. And for feeder money to kickstart the business, they will sell the beach home.

This grand scheme of Frank's sets off a series of explosions that threaten his relationship with his wife and his brother-in-law, who are co-owners of the property. For Deanna, the summer home means everything, representing not only her legacy from her father, but an important link to her Black forebears. She will never agree to sell, even if it means sending her husband packing. Meanwhile, as Frank and Deanna and Ben are hashing things out, a new character (Adrain Washington) shows up at the end of Act I with a surprise announcement that throws even more gasoline onto the already blazing fire. The only one who can see a path forward is Frank's mother, Alice (Leah Finnie), who knows how to pull out the charm offensive when needed.

So, high drama all around in a play that touches on racism, classism, upbringing, and family secrets. Even politics enters the arena, with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama serving as a backdrop. It's a lot to juggle, and, unfortunately, one of the lead performers, Mr. Ogugua, only recently joined the cast and, at least as of the final preview, was still on book. Overall, even when taking this into account, the pacing of the play is off, with awkward pauses and long delays between scenes. We are called on to accept a high level of melodrama, which requires deft timing to pull off successfully, and while the play does have a lot to say, it might have been better to have postponed the production, which feels unsteady on its feet.

Through August 6, 2023
The Negro Ensemble Co., Inc
59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., New York
Tickets online and current performance schedule: