Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘The Wedding Gift’

Chisa Hutchinson’ The Wedding Gift takes its audience into a fascinating world: an exotic “paradise” where matriarchy rules and the white / black power dynamic is turned on its head, where the citizens speak a strange foreign language and where nothing is as it seems.

Jason Babinsky and Damian Thompson. Photo by Seth Freeman.
Jason Babinsky and Damian Thompson. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Directed by May Adrales, The Wedding Gift with its many twists and turns will keep you guessing until the final curtain.

Margaret Ivey plays the alluring Nahlis, princess in this tropical world of lush appetites. She has just been married to the sleek Beshrum, played by Damian Thompson.

Nahlis is bored by the nuptials and by the parade of expensive gifts brought before her by her supplicants.

Then Doug the slave, played by Jason Babinsky, is rolled in, crouching in his cage. He will be Nahlis’ “pet.”

When Nahlis and Beshrum’s wedding night romance goes nowhere, one doesn’t need to guess where Nahlis turns for sugar.

The cast of THE WEDDING GIFT. Photo by Seth Freeman.
The cast of THE WEDDING GIFT. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Funny, terrifying, and excellently performed, The Wedding Gift fills the stage with splendor and ritual and a “what if” scenario as rich as The Planet of the Apes.

Bianca Laverne Jones plays Kamsuh, the queen of this strange world. She and her husband, the regal Torosh, played by Brian D. Coats, rule with a firm grip. They deem, particularly Kamsuh deems, what can and cannot be.

The actors do marvels with the “gibberish,” clarifying intent with each unknown sound and bold gesture, but, don’t worry, there are translators: first, the sympathetic Onjah, played by Nafeesa Monroe, and then the pedant-like “pet” doctor, played by Edward O’Blenis.

A host of attendants round out the cast: Mikayla Bartholomew, Tyler John Fountleroy, Tré Henley, Ciara Monique McMillian, and Vincent Ramirez.

Margaret Ivey, Nafeesa Monroe, and Damian Thompson. Photo by Seth Freeman.
Margaret Ivey, Nafeesa Monroe, and Damian Thompson. Photo by Seth Freeman.

David M. Barber designed the visually stunning sets for this “other” world, with lighting by D.M. Wood adding magnificent highlights. Peggy McKowen created the costumes of bright colors, swooping hemlines, and elevator shoes that left a towering effect as sublime as it is terrifying.

Original music and sound by Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes is at times imperial and at other times as cork-screwy as a Three Stooges’ comedy.

Fight Director Aaron Anderson makes it clear that in this world, the fist is mightier than the pen.

When a play is dominated by a language no one in the audience really understands, when we watch the goings-on without direct association to the world we live in, when we are simply witnesses to the people and events unfolding before our eyes … normal references vanish and meaning is subsumed by the sensual.

In other words, what we mean no longer emerges from what we say or even from what we meant to say: we mean what we do.

Hutchinson’s play leaves it to others to determine its significance, for with The Wedding Gift what you see is what you get, while what you think you see never was at all.

The Wedding Gift and The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) continue through July 31, 2016. Tickets to CATF and for The Wedding Gift can be purchased through the Theater Festival Box Office, by calling (800) 999-CATF (2283), or by purchasing them online.

LINKS:
Review of ‘Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘pen/man/ship by Robert Michael Oliver.

Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘20th Century Blues’ by Robert Michael Oliver.

Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘Not Medea’ by Robert Michael Oliver.

Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): The Second Girl’ by Michael Robert Oliver.

Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘The Wedding Gift.’

Spine: The 26th Contemporary American Theater Festival: Ed Herendeen’s 26th Snapshot of America’s Theatrical Culture.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 1: Susan Miller and “20th Century Blues” by Sharon J. Anderson.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights’ Interviews: Part 2: Christina Anderson and “pen/man/ship” by Sharon J. Anderson.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 3: Allison Gregory and “Not Medea.”

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 4: Ronan Noone and “The Second Girl by Sharon J. Anderson.

Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) Playwrights Interviews: Part 5: Chisa Hutchinson and “The Wedding Gift” by Sharon J. Anderson.

Susan Miller’s website.

Sharon J. Anderson’s website.

Allison Gregory’s website.

Ronan Noone’s website.

Chisa Hutchinson’s website.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.