by June Baird
Three beautiful cast members and one uber talented director. Kel Haney is a director to watch. Her staging of Jonathan Caren’s The Recommendation is one of seamless execution, amazing use of the awkward downstairs space at The Flea, and a careful crafting of three six-pack filled actors’ storytelling.
We open to the story of a young, black college student named Iskinder (half Ethiopian, half white) played thoughtfully by James Fouhey. Iskinder (or Izzy as he suggests), has never fit in with the black or the white kids, but has landed gold with a roommate who is ‘the man’ on campus. Entitled, white, rich kid, Aaron Feldman (the energetic Austin Trow) has it all – including the best recommendation letters. We learn Feldman is not deserving of these recommendations, but receives them as a result of his powerful father.
The play gets interesting when Feldman is pulled over for a broken taillight and thrown in jail for 24 hours. It is in the holding pen we meet Dwight Barnes, a fast-talking hustler who has obviously spent time in prison before tonight. Barnes is played by Barron B. Bass, a true stand-out deftly manipulating Feldman with a mixture of compassion and intimidation. Bass has a smile that melts your heart and a stare that will chill your blood.
The innovative set design by Kaite Hevner Kemp and the fantastic sound design by Elisheba Ittoop add wonderfully textured layers providing a familiar, yet tension-filled landscape.
Caren’s script, although filled with wonderful dialogue and humor, is the weakest link in this mix. I found myself asking why he was telling this story. What made it different than other entitled rich kid stories and their best friend who feels unworthy? Perhaps if we saw Feldman take advantage of Iskinder more so from the beginning, the odd and abrupt ending may have felt like more of a pay-off, but, alas, it did not.
In any case, these three young actors are extremely watchable under Haney’s skilled hand.
“The Recommendation” continues at www.theflea.org thru Sept. 22nd