I thought I walked into Mary Stone Hanley’s the Name Game late. As I took my seat, I saw already on stage a collection of dancers dressed in full-bodied spandex suits gliding back and forth in abstract, improvised movements. Their flitting gestures and facelessness gave them an uneasy phantom appearance.
Though the dancers were only performing a pre-show routine, their aura of disembodiment lingered on stage throughout the Name Game’s staging, heightening the play’s lyrical, amorphous style. Though the play doesn’t coalesce as desired, the shape of its themes, like overhanging clouds, make for entertaining and thought-provoking speculation.
In the opening moments of the Name Game, an aspiring rapper, MC Ezone finds shelter from neighborhood hoodlums in the home of Eartha, a mystic figure who is preoccupied with naming things. In her sparse dwelling, Eartha has renamed common objects, titling them with cardboard signs like the kitchen plant christened Teacher and the oven called Home. “I don’t name something till I know where it comes from,” says Eartha who teases Ezone about his strange stage name. Most of the play occupies a dialogue between Ezone and Eartha on this issue of identity and achieving a name to call oneself.
MC Ezone, (Shawn Sebastian,) has street charisma and convincing swagger. He moves light and loose on stage and smiles a large, nonchalant grin. Eartha, played by Name Game playwright Mary Stone Hanley, vacillates between bag-lady crazy and wise oracle, chipping away at Ezone’s slick exterior to reveal a well-read young man struggling to reunite his scattered family and create avenues for self-expression. Hanley gives a solid performance as Eartha, playing the quirky sage with wit and folksy rasp, though occasionally needed to look down at the script she carried for her lines.
The Name Game
by Mary Stone Hanley
at Lang – Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
Details and tickets
Ezone and Eartha’s powwow does reach a critical volume, however, when Eartha begins hammering home the importance of self-knowledge making Ezone more unmoored and unsure of himself. During this pivotal moment, the stage goes dark and flashes of light pepper the stage. The phantom dance troupe seen before the curtain rise comes out from all corners of Eartha’s apartment dancing in vaporous rhythm.
Ezone is compelled to join them and after settling into the dance launches into a freestyle rap that flows out like a declaration of self. The dance and rap sequence serves as a psychic catharsis for Ezone, bringing him out the other side of a kind of urban hero’s journey. Soon after, he reconnects with his mother and they go off in search of his estranged sister with high hopes.
Though the play’s loose and dreamy structure gels well with the fluid process of self-definition, Name Game needs less soul-searching and more game, more action to shoulder its insightful but heady themes.