“People that love money, they never have enough,” said a character from Director and Playwright Fay Brake’s engaging stage play, The Benjamins. With themes of overreaching ambition, greed and the nature of addiction, The Benjamins is a fabulous family dramedy that fosters fun and fellowship for the audience.
The play is to a degree, a morality tale about the greed and over-aspiration of career woman Evelyn. Brash and self-centered, Evelyn, a Division Director at her job, attributed her success to elbow grease and guile–not God.
In the equation of her life, Evelyn eliminated the Almighty. Evelyn was played by the always wonderful Angela Coles, who has acted under Hollywood veteran Kevin Hooks’ Black Repertory Company in Washington, D.C.
Evelyn, who had Lord & Taylor and Gucci tastes, loved to talk about the inadequacy of her lower-earning husband, Troy, who was “just a program manager.” Conflict between Evelyn and Troy, married seven years, boiled to the surface when Evelyn insisted on going to an award ceremony in her honor without her husband. To say that their marriage was hanging on a precipice is an understatement.
In a stellar performance and his first time on stage, Frank White III portrayed put-upon Troy with an everyman, nice guy patience. He epitomized a loving and Christian husband, who could tolerate a hard-to-please wife. White has covered Broadway as a past associate editor at Ebony magazine.
There was a spectacular rapport between White and Dr. Sam Lewis, who played Troy’s gambling-addicted brother, James. In a scene both comical and dramatic, Lewis portrayed a man addicted to the thrill of the blackjack table–always begging his brother for money. Lewis made James into a relatable family loafer that the audience clearly recognized.
Brendalyn S. Harper, who excelled in such shows as The Great Pretender at Bowie Center of the Performing Arts, played the loving and religious Helen, Troy’s mom, with wisdom and aplomb. She elevated every one-on-one scene with her co-stars to an elite level.
An excellent performance was turned in by Jacqueline Agee, an Oglethorpe University theater major, who played James’ wife Carolyn, a hard-working nurse. In a scene that focused on complaining to her mother-in-law, Helen, about James’ gambling addiction, Agee showed the anguish of a wife pushed near the edge of her limits by her husband’s addiction.
The show was punctuated by the liturgical dancing of Imani Kai Treadwell, Antoinette Morton, and Cameron Royal during musical breaks in the action. With their black costumes and refined dance moves, their dancing was divine.
Carmen, Evelyn’s younger sister, who uttered the “People that love money” line, was well played by Detenia “Dee” Gibbs. Carmen expressed concern about the trials of her brother-in-law. The cast was rounded out nicely by Minerva Woodard as Evelyn’s girlfriend Monica, Jynelle Phillips as Troy’s daughter Taylor and Alesia Jackson as a Ms. Turner.
I adored the lively and detailed set, which consisted of a living room complete with family photos and a kitchen, by Set Designer Margie Bennett, who also provided appropriate props. The cast served effectively as their own Costume Designer along with Wardrobe Assistants Yolanda Dillingham and Preston (PJ) Jackson; I loved White’s seersucker suit and Coles’ night-on-the-town black dress. The Audio Visual team, headed by Don Fikes, effectively played snips of dialogue and a playlist that included such tunes as “I Found Love” and “God Provides” by BeBe & CeCe Winans and Tamela Mann respectively.
Brake, who has written and directed several other plays such as The Prayers of the Righteous, Man of the Year, It is Finished, and First Christmas (which featured Coles, Woodard, and Phillips) continues to perfect her craft as an excellent director. She chose a cast whose chemistry was superb. Look for her next show at Shiloh, The 12 Voices of Christmas, on December 16th.
Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission.
The Benjamins played November 3, 2018, at the Music and Drama Ministry performing at Shiloh Baptist Church of Landover – 8801 Ardwick Ardmore Road, Landover, MD, Pastor Be Louis Colleton. For tickets to future performances at Shiloh Baptist Church of Landover call 202-595-5300.