Spotlight: The Dance on Widow's Row

Ann Marsden

Samm-Art Williams's comedy opens in small-town North Carolina, where Magnolia (Peggy Blow) has hatched a plan for romance. Her house, where the action takes place on Joe Stanley's genteel domestic set, is part of Widow's Row. The origins of the block's name come into focus when three of Magnolia's friends arrive and we learn that the foursome can claim close to ten dead husbands between them. The subsequent arrival of a few of the town's leading bachelors sets in motion a light and funny sequence in which the group jells into couples. In the early going this is funny stuff, with Regina Marie Williams turning in a wild-eyed performance that turns increasingly sinister, and Austene Van exuding demented hauteur as a would-be celebrity. The men in the work are justifiably scared, both by the prospect of becoming yet another dead husband and, in particular, by the ladies themselves. Warren C. Bowles as Newly Benson conducts himself with hilarious cowardice and, for a time, the dialogue is sharp and the production has the quick pace and glossy sheen of a solid sitcom. Then things turn problematic. Annie (Ninoska Mancebo-Meyer), who starts out as a Bible-clutching mouse, leaves and returns in minimal clothing, then proceeds to attempt to sex up Deacon Hudson (James A. Williams). From there more makeovers ensue and things officially become preposterous. One of the men dies, and this harmless comedy devolves into a half-assed murder mystery. After the one-hour mark in this 90-minute one-act, there's a feeling that the outlandish elements of the story have overwhelmed its appealing qualities, and pretty soon the wheels come off for good. Director Thomas W. Jones II's cast becomes more frantic and breathless, as though to compensate for the material's deficiencies. This is a case of a talented cast taking on an odd work, and while they hold it together for a while, by the final quarter-hour things are not pretty at all. By then, unfortunately, it kills in the wrong sense.

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