Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Though Jesse is kind of preparing for some future project, and spends most of his time going through detritus from his youthstuffed animals, a soccer trophymuch of his reminiscing is of his adult life: a writing fellowship in Italy (where he was trapped when the pandemic first hit), a new relationship with a man he met there, and the joy (and tragic end) of his relationship with Neil, seemingly the love of his life so far.
When he does delve more deeply into his youth, it's with the help of his mother Sheryl (a vibrant Jan Hunter). She proudly relates his success on the soccer field, glares menacingly when he begins to dive into his dinner before the grace is said, and is generally a presence of pure, motherly love.
Unfortunately, Jesse's explorations of his youth and relationships never develops into anything more than some cleverly-written navel-gazing. Nothing seems truly to be at stake here for Jesse. There's no real sense of conflict, and the two characters seem to change very little over the course of the play. The reminiscing is sweet, and Jesse has had a somewhat eventful life, but despite growing up black and gay in a conservative Christian household, in an overwhelmingly white and heterosexual middle-American town, he seems to have come out of the closet with very little blowback. When he tells his parents he thinks he's gay, his father's primary reaction is, "let's not tell anyone." It's not "dramatically interesting," something Jesse claims is important to making good art.
Donald Ray Antoine plays Jesse with an almost hyperactive twitchiness. We learn from Sheryl in act two that he was always moving as a boy, always dancing or singing, constantly on the go. But in the first half-hour or so, his head-bobbing and constant movement are a distraction from the text. Though this abates somewhat as the play moves on, his physical performance tends to pull focus from the emotional performance. When he has the micro-cassette recorder in his hand, it's rarely held near his mouth, as most people use it. Instead, his arms fling about, or he sets it on the ground, where it would be unlikely to deliver even a minimum of recording fidelity. It's a small thing to be sure, but it feels out of character.
Fortunately, Jan Hunter is a wonderful counterpoint to Jesse's mania. She is calm and centered and delivers a touching performance as Sheila. I'd have been far more interested to hear much more of her take on the relationship between the two.
Interlude runs through November 7, 2021, at New Conservatory Theatre Center's Decker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25-$55. For information and tickets, please visit NCTCSF.org or call 415-861-8972.