After decades of staging wrenching works by African American playwrights, the Southeast Community Theatre is now having fun with the black American experience in "Spooks."
This one-act, 72-minute comedy by Don Evans, which runs through Sunday in the Lyceum Space, is a clever, amusing piffle based on the comic premise that it's funny when a know-it-all finds out he doesn't know everything after all.
A "buppie"--black yuppie--couple from New York buy a Virginia plantation mansion where slaves were once housed in quarters at the back. The husband, Howard Johnson (Paul Jackson-Miles), has struck it rich with his first novel and relishes the idea of turning the tables on slave history by becoming a plantation owner.
His wife, Karen (Jackie Mari Roberts), is not so sure. The place is beautiful, and there's a great staircase for their daughter to come down for her wedding (if and when they ever have a baby), but this house seems haunted to her.
Her fears are exacerbated by an elderly black man, Son (Joel Brisker), and woman, Lucinda (Candace Ludlow-Trotter), who stop by to welcome them. They also relate stories of the revenge and tragedy that ensued when the antebellum mistress of the house discovered her husband's love for a slave.
These stories, told with relish by the exuberant and mysterious Ludlow-Trotter--a voodoo expert who travels with a box of her nail and hair clippings--are about as serious as the play gets.
The rest of the script is peppered with jokes--some at the expense of the sweet but silly chatterbox wife, but mostly at the expense of the husband, who thinks he is smarter than everyone else around him--especially when it comes to old ghost tales.
Floyd Gaffney's direction, with the assistance of Manu Musaka, is mostly on the mark but could use some tightening. Veteran performers Brisker and Ludlow-Trotter are perfect, Brisker with his deadpan delivery and Ludlow-Trotter, resplendent with beads and jingly rings, with her over-the-top performance.
Jackson-Miles and newcomer Roberts, a beautiful, fresh young face on the local theater scene, need to remember that they are the straight guys. They should pull back to give the comedy more room to breathe.
Southeast typically produces on a slender budget. Within these constraints, John Redmon's set gives a sense of the mansion's expanse. Judy Watson's costumes make a nice distinction between the country and the city folks. Keith Marcussen's sound design delivers on the thunder. And Erik Hanson's special effects keep the scenery literally moving when the ghosts come to roost.
"Spooks" is about as substantial as the spirits that haunt the mansion--but very, very funny.
* "Spooks," Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Sundays, 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Ends June 5. $12-$14. (619) 235-8025. Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes. Paul Jackson-Miles: Howard Johnson
Jackie Mari Roberts: Karen Johnson
Joel Brisker: Son
Candace Ludlow-Trotter: Lucinda
Darren Kjeldsen; Ghost
A Southeast Community Theatre production. By Don Evans. Directed by Floyd Gaffney. Technical direction by David Goode. Associate director and stage manager: Manu Musaka. Sets: John Redmon. Costumes: Judy Watson. Special effects: Erik Hanson. Sound: Keith Marcussen. Lighting: Pierre Clavel.