SLOW DANCE ON THE KILLING GROUND by William Hanley; directed by Joseph A. Walker; scenery by Douglas A. Cumming; lighting by John K. Gabbert; costumes by Leslie-Marie Cocuzzo; with David DiGiannantonio, Stuart Perry and Greta Lambert.
At the Round House Theatre through April 18.
A large investment of time and talent has gone into "Slow Dance on the Killing Ground" at the Round House Theatre. This impressively mounted production has been blessed with three intelligent, forceful actors and a director who obviously cares about the material -- so much so, in fact, that he has written a lengthy program note explaining the work.
The director happens to be Joseph A. Walker, whose own play "The River Niger" won the 1974 Tony Award as Broadway's best, and who now teaches theater at Howard University. In the main body of the program, Walker "implores" the audience to read his separate note, as if afraid that William Hanley's 1964 play couldn't stand on its own. Alas, the fear is justified. For all its heavy thematizing, "Slow Dance on the Killing Ground" is more likely to provoke yawns than serious thought about the issues Walker discusses.
The play is set in a small Brooklyn store, presided over by a man named Glas, a German refugee with an obscure biography but a deep interest in things to do with Nazis and concentration camps. Outside his front door, police sirens, jungle drums and other night noises (as staged here) contribute a sense of menace to the neighborhood -- as does the appearance of Randall, a polysyllabic young black hipster who might be a holdup man or an escapee.
Just about the only thing Randall tells us about himself, however, is that he has a hole in his heart -- a missing something "where love is." Glas tries to expel Randall from the store, but Randall lingers and eventually gets his hands on the storekeeper's gun. Then a woman bursts into the store -- starving and, it turns out, on her way to an appointment with an abortionist. The playwright uses the confluence of these three grim lives to address such matters as (to quote from the director's program note) "rejection, rage, homicide and guilt -- in that order."
Seventeen years after it enjoyed a considerable off-Broadway success, the play seems ponderously arty. It makes its points through symbolism and oratory rather than by drawing us into the story. But the actors -- David DiGiannantonio as Glas, Stuart Perry as Randall and Greta Lambert as Rosie -- do a splendid job of taking it all very seriously.