Vincent Smith, the creator and primary performer of "Nobody: An Evening With Bert Williams," playing this weekend and next at the Market Five Gallery, has latched onto a good idea that has yet to be fully realized.
The work, which originated as part of Smith's master's thesis at Bowie State College and later won the Lorraine Hansberry Award at the American College Theater Festival, is a portrait of the life and times of Bert Williams, a black vaudevillian whose efforts to avoid playing the stereotypical "colored" shuffler in blackface lost him jobs and caused him anguish.
There is plenty of material here for a moving and meaningful show, but Smith has trapped himself in an unfocused, over-long play lacking coherence and impact. Entrances and exits are made without purpose, scenes develop but end without resolutions, and there is no consistent style. Some characters are mimed by Smith, others are portrayed by a supporting cast of four.Likewise, some props are mimed and others are not.
Some of the vaudeville numbers, such as "I Have Lost My Teddy Bear," performed by Joan Thaxton and pianist William Sydnor, show the potential of Smith's concept. The re-creations of the particular style of vaudeville, which Smith does quite well without glossing it up unnecessarily for modern audiences provide the bulk of the evening's energy and interest.
The Market Five Gallery, an appealing high-roofed room in the Eatern Market, is not the ideal performance space, as the sounds of traffic, passing bicycle bells and shouting children vie for the audience's attention. The show plays tonight and next weekend.