I found the Generic Theater last Saturday! I know, this probably should not be as exciting as I am making it seem, however, the place is notoriously hard to find to begin with, and there was some concert thing going on at one of the other venues, and the parking garage was full so I had to park elsewhere, therefore I walked into the parking garage instead of driving, and yet I still found the place.
Pro-tip: if you are good for the walk, MacArthur parking after 6pm is $2, rather than $5 event parking, for the downtown theater-goer on a budget. Other pro tip: bottom floor of the Scope garage, then to your left; actually easier to find than I thought. So I finally got down to the Generic Theater to see their current show, The (former)Prostitutes Potluck Supper.
The play, written by local playwright Frankie Little Hardin, tells the story of the lives of six (former) sex workers as they find themselves, their lives, their children, and their challenges years after their working girl period is over, and a friend of a friend who enters their lives in a not so honest manner. There are some very good characters in the show, and every character is very well thought out and developed. I would have liked to see a little more of the camaraderie between Miss Lydia and Ethel playing out before the last scene, which may have prevented the ending from seeming like it came out of the blue, however, I’ve seen plenty of plays which are considered “American Classics” that have far bigger plot points solved in more bizarre ways (lookin’ at you, August Wilson). In Act I the script tends to drag a little, which can be fixed with a bit of condensing and editing. For example, we do not learn the name of one of the characters who is onstage from the beginning of the show until we are far enough along in the script that I was actively wondering who she was rather than following the plot. The entire show is broken up by a good number of scene changes, which did make me wonder why those weren’t covered by isolating the smaller monologues and changing scene behind/ during them where possible, though that may have been difficult in this particular performance due to Little Hall being such a tiny space. The show has better pacing in Act II, however, the three hour run time is too long for a straight play.
The cast is a fantastic ensemble; it is always nice to see so many actors onstage who are all actively engaged in their characters, and engaged with each other onstage. This ensemble was directed by Philip Odango, and I believe this to be some of his best work I’ve ever seen. Two actors stand out in this particular ensemble: Courtney-Giselle Cook, playing Shantai, and Rico Robinson, playing Norma. The chemistry between Robinson and Cook broadcast the “BFF” relationship their characters have without needing long explanations of their past. Cook’s monologue in the second Act was enthralling. She nailed it, and we were right there with her. Robinson’s timing and snark keep the show moving along. He was the voice of much of what we as an audience were thinking, and his demonstration of how to put on a condom, assisted by Rona Hyman’s character, Ethel, had everyone in the place in stitches. It was also nice to see Rona Hyman onstage again, having last seen her as one of the cops in Little Theatre of Virginia Beach’s Rumors. She had the chance to do some meatier character work in this one, and she did it well.
Scenic design by Terry Jernigan made very good use of the small space. The construction is on par with other area community theaters, however, as a carpenter myself, I would have preferred the offstage flats be properly flushed so that the seams weren’t so obvious, especially with so light a wall color. Audience seating was a bit awkward, as the first three rows are on the floor at the same level as the playing space, making the second and third row essentially obstructed view seats. Should you decide to go, get there early to sit in a row on risers (the seating is general admission). It was also good to see so many newer names on the crew list, and the crew handled the scenic transitions with ease.
Lighting design by Dawn Wilfong was simple and effective, and let the ensemble carry the show without any distraction, which was perfect for this space and performance. Sound design by Philip Odango did a great job setting the mood while teetering on the edge of my friends’ karaoke and drag soundtracks; perhaps it was the familiarity of the songs that made me smile at each scene change. Robin Martineau was listed as Properties Designer and April Shannon Threet was listed as both Stage Manager and Dildo Dramaturge in her bio. Kudos to whichever found “Thor”; he definitely made some audience members cringe and audibly express their unease–though most (including myself) found him hilarious. Wardrobe design by Dean Perry and Katelyn Jackson showed a thoughtful depth of character right down to each Halloween costume. Wig design, also by Philip Odango, was very well done, and a huge shout out to whichever crew member has to clean food out of them at the end of the night.
Speaking of food, as the show has “potluck supper” in the title, it was kind of a necessity, and there certainly was a lot of it. Jon Hatten (Food Design), Tennile Cyphers (Food Preparation), and Janice Dulay (Food Handler) certainly had their work cut out for them, and they delivered. Over the course of two acts we see five different pot lucks, with 6-7 characters eating at each one, with some very specific dishes mentioned and delivered, plus a food fight, and the Generic is not a space where you can get away with faking any of that. One of the most memorable monologues comes from Ms. Hyman, discussing how her interest in international cuisine stems from her love of travel, and how the smells of different foods bring her to each individual place; the whole thing was brought home a bit more powerfully as she asks the front row to smell the food she has in her hands–something you cannot do unless you have actually cooked a dish to show off.
All in all, The (former) Prostitutes Potluck Supper is a good show, and the Generic Theater is right where it needs to be at the moment, with their mission as stated on their website to both “provide a space for experienced technicians and artists to craft great theater” and “nurture and develop new talent.” The show has already had one staged reading at Dezart Performs in Palm Springs, and a workshop locally at the Generic Theater, and was ready for a venue to tackle a full production. From here, some editing for time and perhaps condensing (with another few workshops to make sure it works) may be all it would take to make the leap to a fully professional theater within the next few years. (Also, the copy editor in me REALLY wants an apostrophe added after the word “prostitutes” in the title, but that is the playwright’s choice.) As for this particular production, the ensemble and crew’s hard work has paid off, and – like the weird dish your experimenting epicurean friend brought to your last potluck – I recommend you try it!
For more info on Generic and this show, click here.