DANGEROUS HOUSE – Williamstown Theatre Festival
Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Nikos stage ends its season fulfilling its promise – and then some - to showcase the best of America’s young playwrights with Jen Silverman’s tautly written, arresting “Dangerous House.” In Silverman’s hands, interpersonal conflict illuminates broader issues of our times. Silverman doesn’t write story pasted-on to theme. Theme comes from story. Her storytelling is that skilled, that fundamental and that good.
In “Dangerous Minds”, Noxolo, an aspiring, Lesbian footballer from Cape Town, has moved to London to start a new life after leaving behind her ex-lover, an outspoken, LGBT activist Pretty. When Pretty goes missing, Noxolo returns to Cape Town, where she confronts the painful truth about Pretty and a society, which despite being the only African country to allow same-sex marriages, is mired in aggressive sexism and homophobia. Most harrowing, about which “Dangerous House” tells, is a practice called “corrective rape”, where sexual assault is believed to “cure” homosexuality.
Saheem Ali’s no-nonsense direction corresponds exactly to Silverman’s tightly organized story-telling. Dane Laffrey’s scenic design is appropriately unpretentious.
Casting is precise. There’s not one miss among the five actors. Alfie Fuller demonstrates incredible versatility as Noxolo. (I never would have guessed she was the same actor who played the office manager in “Artney Jackson” last month on the same stage.) Samira Wiley, Emmy-nominated for her role in the series “The Handmaid’s Tale”, hones in perfectly on Pretty’s wise-ass spunk. Atandwa Kani, the only South African in the cast, is superb in the most difficult role as Noxell’s brother, both defender of and conspirator against his sister. Michael Braun plays an American reporter all too comfortable with getting a story no matter what. Phillip James Brannon as Noxolo’s London boss and friend nails a brief, riveting monologue about surviving hate crime.
Special kudos to dialect couch Barbara Rubin who sets right the cast’s South African accents, one of the most difficult for American actors to negotiate.
Everything about “Dangerous House” is clean, straighforward and uncluttered. Playwright Silverman neither preaches nor condescends. She lets us, the audience, connect the dots to the world outside the theater all by ourselves. We need more storytelling on stage like this.