What will it take to make us happy? And why are we confused by the letdown when the dream we wished for on the silvery moon comes true? The two couples in Jennifer L. Nelson’s sweetly woven and funny 24, 7, 365 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center grapple with those questions in a way that’s refreshingly light and fun.
The outstanding cast and Nelson’s stylish, humorous tale, directed with loving care and precision by Juanita Rockwell, deliver a revealing look at the underlying culprits of discontent.
Swirling about in a display of intense energy, Johnnie (the remarkable Deidra LaWan Starnes) is resisting her husband Jan’s (Michael Kramer) attempts to help her relax and have some fun during their campground getaway. Joining them at the woodsy private estate for the outdoor birthday celebration complete with vodka martinis are Johnnie’s status-conscious brother Beau (Craig Wallace), and his girlfriend Shavondra (the scene-stealing Fatima Quander). Clearly unaccustomed to roughing it, Shavondra is dressed in a pink down jacket, a curve-hugging Baby-Phat t-shirt, tight jeans and pointy-toed high-heeled boots.
The always superb Starnes (In Darfur, In the Red and Brown Water, Radio Golf) is perfect in her depiction of a dedicated woman who carries the world on her shoulders. High strung and controlling, Johnnie is deeply committed to her work with battered women. Her body is tense, and even when she smiles her brow is slightly furrowed with worry. You can almost see the sparks of nervous electricity crackling from her small frame. Kramer is superb as Johnnie’s perfect counterpart, whose seductive warmth and earnestness is like a soft blanket protective for her.
Despite the idyllic nature of the rustic locale – wonderful set design by Daniel Ettinger, complete with soft moonlight and a simple yet highly effective tree – you’ll get the feeling that the perfect storm of emotional outbursts is brewing—the catalysts being vodka, missing cell phones, the feeling of a job left undone, and the relentless unhappiness of Johnnie, who tells Jan she feels lost and insignificant.
The performances are all first-rate. Quander is particularly impressive. At the outset, Shavondra seems a bit of a lightweight – a dimbulb who misuses words. But Quander allows her character’s quickness and wit to light up the stage, and eventually Shavondra establishes herself as an equal to the others. Baye StraightForward Harrell also puts in some good work as a young man more complex than he first seems to be.
Director Rockwell’s effective use of simultaneous scenes allows the play to move at a well-paced clip, keeping the audience engaged.
24, 7, 365 climaxes with a series of shattering events, which bring us to consider that maybe it’s just possible to suspend judgment, stop worrying about things that won’t happen, and find the joy in the moment. With that, playwright Nelson leaves us with a lilting, uplifting note to hum as we exit the theatre.
24, 7, 365
By Jennifer L. Nelson
Directed by Juanita Rockwell
Produced by Theater of the First Amendment
Reviewed by Carol Chastang
Running time: 2 hrs, 10 minutes with 1 intermission
Following its run in DC, the play goes on tour:
Hylton Performing Arts Center’s Gregory Family Theater
10960 George Mason Circle
Manassas, VA 20110
George Mason University’s Harris Theater
Center for the Arts
4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030