Before It Hits Home | The Black Rep

Putting the parents’ home in the center worked on a metaphorical level, as well, although the play showed that the true center of a family can not easily be pinpointed.


By Cheryl West
Directed by Linda Kennedy
Through April 9, 2006

A crisis might bring a family together, or tear it apart. Sometimes it does both, in surprising ways.

The Black Rep has taken on difficult material with Before It Hits Home, which looks at the effects of AIDS and HIV on one young man, his lovers, and his family—a family that thought it couldn’t happen to them.

Wendal (Eugene H. Russell IV) is a young musician with a girlfriend, a male lover, and a bad cough, which turns out to be AIDS-related. After a long stay in the hospital, he decides to return to his parents’ house, where his son already lives, to rebuild his strength.

Before Wendal arrives, his parents and son are happy, and they are even happier to have Wendal and his brother, an Army man, home again. His mother, Reba (Starletta DuPois), seems thrilled to be alive, taking delight in everything that comes her way. But when Wendal’s health begins to breaks down again, he finally confides his secret, first to his mother, who in turn tells his father. They fiercely resist accepting his condition, and they react in surprising ways, which lead to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

Russell accurately portrayed the emotional stages of an AIDS diagnosis, moving adeptly through anger, denial, and acceptance, and ultimately seeking forgiveness and understanding. DuPois’ performance as Wendal’s mother was delightful and magnetic, and A.C. Smith, as the father, Bailey, was equally impressive, especially in the second act. Also notable were Richon May as Wendal’s girlfriend, Simone, and J. Samuel Davis as Douglas, Wendal’s lover.

For parts of the first act, the dialogue was somewhat difficult to hear, although it’s always nice—as an audience member—to not be subject to the technical challenges that a mic system can sometimes present. Linda Kennedy’s direction made good use of the stage, but felt a bit static at times, with characters staying in one place for long periods.

The stage consisted of a central, raised area, which was Wendal’s parents’ home, and two lower areas, which functioned as every other space into which the action moved. Putting the parents’ home in the center worked on a metaphorical level, as well, although the play showed that the true center of a family can not easily be pinpointed. The lighting by Ryan Breneisen was quite effective, and gave the production a surreal mood at times.

While the family dynamics in Before It Hits Home were right on the mark, the play’s portrayal of the medical care AIDS patients depicted the near past, which in terms of AIDS treatment, was vastly different from what’s available today. Treatment has come a long way, enabling many AIDS patients to live long, healthy lives, under the care of patient, caring doctors and nurses who are quite unlike the stressed, overworked doctor (played by Susie Wall) Wendal sees. (Of course there is still no cure, and many do die, but AIDS is not the certain death sentence it once was. I bring this up primarily because I wouldn’t want someone seeing the play to be reluctant to get tested or receive medical care because of the treatment Wendal receives.)

However, the medical treatment of AIDS is by no means the main focus of the play. Instead, Before It Hits Home explores the complex interactions between Wendal and his loved ones in the wake of his diagnosis, and in this it succeeds.

The Black Rep presents Cheryl West’s Before It Hits Home through April 9 at The Grandel Theatre (3610 Grandel Square). Showtimes are 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $17–40. Reservations can be made by calling 314-534-3810.

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