Playwright/ director Lauren Rhodes Cooper was so nice to those who attended the August 18th dress rehearsal of roughdraftofmylife. At the conclusion of her one hour-plus drama, the DC native joined her four-woman cast on stage to answer any questions the audience might have about the production, debuting Friday, August 19 for a two-weekend run at the Liv Lounge on U Street.
As a one-time writer for Black Entertainment Television, Cooper has mastered the creative process, so often involving peer scrutiny. The fact that she held an open dress for this production open to the press shows that she does not fear what could be harsh criticism. Oftentimes, these talkback sessions can be pointless, because artists have a tendency to get defensive, especially when audiences express an indifference or lack of understanding towards the artist’s work. Cooper was too generous for this. She handled all questions cheerfully, with anecdotes about the instructions she gave her cast and insights about experiences that inspired certain plot elements, and closed with jokes about the actual contents of the liquor bottles the characters drank from throughout the play.
A jaded entertainment writer would find the interplay refreshing. Still, I cannot recommend roughdraft. At times, no matter how much care and consideration one puts into their work, they still cannot put out a compelling product. Cooper wrote roughdraft in 2000, when she was living in New York, and in 2002, she was awarded a residency at the New Professional Theater, where she was able to workshop the play before staging it on Times Square later that year. The play went on to appear at the Hip Hop Theater Festival in 2002, and again in 2003. The fact that this is an early success for the playwright shows in this adapted-for-DC production. Usually, when a playwright starts writing, she works on tuning her ear for dialog. When she is confident in that, she starts learning how to draw characters. Only when the playwright feels her characters are strong does she begin to master the complexities of structure, and finally, voice. After a few minutes watching roughdraft, you are convinced Cooper is expert in dialog, but before the play is finished, it is obvious she has not mastered story and form.
The play fits in well with its setting at the Liv Lounge. To see fake liquor bottles just a few feet away from real ones is entertaining itself, and some of the dialogue sounds like stuff you hear in the corner of a lounge some evenings. The women of the cast have gathered to vent over their endless sexual frustrations. Perhaps, real patrons wouldn’t speak in monologues as lengthy as these woman launch into, at least not as coherently. But a story is always more detailed than our words can convey. And this quartet has enough of them: from a child dying in birth to a boyfriend with (ugh!) atrocious bathroom etiquette, they splay it all out there like the guts and shells of eaten crabs. And as each character takes repeated trips to the bar at the foot of the stage, their monologues get more blunt and confessional. But that’s just about all it is: there is little interplay between the characters.
A play that’s mostly a string of monologues needs a thread that runs through it, pulling the play relentlessly to its conclusion. Several possibilities were apparent for this play, but none actually appeared, and as a result, the play wandered like a drunk, without any obvious denouement, and in fact there was none. The play, instead, concludes with something like a poem to a dream lover, who the women dream about “with [their] eyes open.” This just might say more about these characters than anything else spoken in the play: disease and misfortune is one thing, but a woman whose romantic standards are much too lofty is probably destined to sexual frustration.
The cast consists of Barbara Asare-Bediako, Carolyn Barrett, Alison Carney, and Under The Spell Productions co-founder Teresa Lasley. All perform well in this production, especially Carney, a singer-songwriter who happens to be making her acting debut. Cooper seemed satisfied by their performances as well, and they were well chosen for Cooper’s vision of the play.
There are two remaining shows: Friday 8/26- 6:30 Cocktail Hour with a 7:30 Curtain and Saturday 8/27- 2pm Brunch, 3pm Curtain at Liv Lounge, 2001 11th Street, NW, Washington, DC.
by Lauren Rhodes Cooper
produced by Under the Spell Productions
reviewed by Steve Haskell