Throw Pitchfork, written and performed by Alexander Thomas, is at The Kitchen Theatre Apr 23 – May 7.
This is a one-man show, debuted in 2007, performed without break lasting about 75 minutes. It is semi-autobiographical, based on true events, but according to a statement in the program by Thomas, embellished upon and “crafted mostly of parts of me.”
Thomas is black, and that is central to the story as the culture is an important player. There are 5 main characters portrayed: Alexander’s (he went by Alex) father, an alcoholic who insists repeatedly, “I ain’t shit”, and tells his sons not to be like him, and his three older brothers, Sammy, who was always in trouble with the law and spent most of his adult life in jail, Jess, a heroin addict, Cleve, who is studious and gay, and Alex, who is portrayed as somewhat comparatively “normal” yet prone to the lure of alcohol as well.
But Thomas is hardly “normal”. He is a wonderful talent, capable of channeling these diverse characters with great depth, fully taking on their style of speech and physicality.
The form of the play is a series of stories told by the characters who at times share dialog. The switching between characters was very clear and smooth while not being comical. The play’s title refers to an incident when drunken dad throws a pitchfork at the young Alex, and misses, after the boy’s failed attempt at fixing a leaky faucet.
Dad grew up in Alabama as a boy, but the family lives in upstate New York. Mom makes an appearance in one scene when she and the two younger boys take a road trip in a Greyhound bus to Alabama. This was probably in the 1950s, before civil rights, and segregation was still firmly entrenched in the southern culture. The boys had never experienced this and Alex made a serious blunder speaking disrespectfully to a white kid when he should not have even been in the company of whites in the first place. Mom quickly and deeply apologizes and narrowly saves the day. Lesson learned!
Dad dies and the kids grow up. Alex shares an apartment in Greenwich Village (??) with older brother Cleve (emphatically NOT Cleveland!). Cleve is exploring the gay scene and Alex is very accepting. And life goes on.
Tyler M Perry’s set was simple. A solitary chair in the middle of the stage which was made up of rough wooden planks running horizontally, as if to imply a very basic living space. A couple of plastic milk crates for a table. The floor, which had a removeable board where dad stashed his booze, curved up in the back to form the dilapidated wall. Behind the wall was chain link fencing from floor to the top of the proscenium, showing through cracks running the width of the stage. The planks were richly toned, dark brown. Perry was also the lighting designer. He did well to shift the lighting to suit the moods, character changes and scenes, something often taken for granted in a one-person show which relies on those changes to help promote visual interest and drama.
Music and sound were tastefully rendered by Sergey Levitsky, adding just the right amount of both at the right times. Lisa Boquist is listed as costume designer, but that job was most likely a matter of saying, “Yeah, wear that.” Which was a dark pair of pants and shirt. Appropriately nondescript. Technical director was Brendan Komala and stage management went to Jennifer Schilansky.
Stage direction was by Sara Lampert Hoover. I had the opportunity to briefly speak with her after the show and asked what was to be done as director when the single actor was also the playwright. She concurred that it was mostly a matter of reflecting what she saw and engaging in dialog about it.
The show is all about the performance, and Thomas was splendid. He was focused and unfaltering. To be alone on stage for 75 minutes is no small feat, but it seemed as if he could do it forever. Thomas’s physicality was strong, at times quite animated, yet he was capable of quiet subtlety. It was a pleasure to experience this man at work.
For tickets and info call 607-272-0570, or visit their website: www.kitchentheatre.org
Street Address: 417 State/MLK Jr. St. Ithaca, NY 14580