Through October 17. Vinnette Carroll Repertory Company at the Vinnette Carroll Theatre, 503 SE 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-2424.
Written by Charlayne Woodard. Directed by Vinnette Carroll. Choreographed by Eulyce Williams Eason. With Zuleyma Guevara, Deidré Washington-Capp; Teddy Harrell, Jr.; Ray Lockhart; Lineen Farmer; Zedryc Keith Bembry; Rogers Harrell, Jr.; Michelle Hill; and Levon Randall.
The young Charlayne's discoveries of the contradictory relationships between African-Americans and the American South are fascinating. But because they're not tightly woven into a larger design, even the most potentially spellbinding scenes lose their power. Important characters come and go, leaving only small impressions. I haven't seen the actress's second autobiographical play. Titled Neat, an abbreviation for Beneatha, the name of a favorite aunt, the show ran off-Broadway last year. In the case of Pretty Fire, the family member who best comes into relief is Charlayne's grandmother. When quizzed about feminism, she claims that she's always known that women can work as hard as men, but she nonetheless tells her granddaughters that, if they ever meet a man who wants to put them on a pedestal, they should "crawl up on it and take a nap for me." With lines like these, Woodard's people beg for more definition than the playwright gives them.
Under the direction of Vinnette Carroll herself, this current production is thoughtfully and beautifully realized. Not coincidentally Carroll, who was nominated for a Tony for her celebrated 1976 show Your Arms Too Short to Box With God, jump-started her own career by creating a one-woman show. The result has been an extraordinary career stretching over the past three decades. The actress/playwright/producer will be honored next month by the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers in New York, who have named her one of the "most creative, influential, and innovative directors of this century." (She was the first African-American woman to win a Tony nomination and has garnered a total of three nominations. She also won an Obie for her acting in the New York production of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. With Langston Hughes she directed the original production of Black Nativity.) She brings an intelligent and inventive professionalism to this production. South Florida is lucky to count her among our working artists. Here's looking forward to the productions yet to come.