Horizon Theatre is currently presenting Gloria Bond Clunie’s comedy “Sweet Water Taste,” directed by Thomas W. Jones II, running through August 25.
Few would argue that race is the most serious, divisive issue in the country today; furthermore, there would seem to be nothing inherently funny about this subject.
But North Carolina native Ms. Clunie, an award-winning playwright, educator, and director based in Chicago, has struck out boldly and triumphantly where many would fear to tread. Someone once said that life is too important to be taken seriously; I can’t help but think that Ms. Clunie believes it, for she demonstrates this statement in her delightful play.
The setting is North Carolina some time during the Obama years. Elijah Beckford (LaParee Young) is a prominent African-American funeral director who has a brush with the great beyond in the form of a heart attack. Although he recovers, aided immeasurably by his wife Iola (Jen Harper) and grown children Nathan (Enoch King) and Carrie (Brittani Minnieweather), he is now determined to be buried, when his time comes, in the Beckford family cemetery.
But there’s one little problem: The “family cemetery” has been white-only forever. Elijah’s wealthy cousin Charlie Beckford (Chris Kayser) has no intention to integrate. Like Elijah, Charlie is blessed with a nice family: his wife Elizabeth (LaLa Cochran) and his grown son “Charlieboy” (Justin Walker). On a visit to Charlie’s home, let’s just say that Elijah decides to stay a spell. To give you the details I’d have to turn spoiler, and that’s no fun.
But I can tell you that the heart of the play is the warmth and humor that the families share. You might wonder where this comes from, but that is Ms. Clunie’s coup. For example, the wives, Iola and Elixabeth share many things in common, especially an expertise in handling their excitable husbands. They are both wise and wily; in addition, they genuinely like each other. Ms. Harper and Ms. Cochran turn in expert comic performances; they are quite magnetic.
But so are Mr. Beckford and Mr. Kayser; both Elijah and Charlie have a lot of thunder and bluster, which of course adds to the evening’s fun. We are dealing with experienced, professional actors in this play, and Ms. Clunie is very well-served by them all. The grown children (Mr. King, Ms. Minnieweather, Mr. Walker) all add excellent support, but the parental roles tend to dominate. (It’s rather touching when late in the play someone finally refers to Charlieboy as just Charlie; he comments that no one has ever done that. He’s definitely played second fiddle all his life to his father.)
You may well wonder how one creates a comedy these days dealing with both race and death (and a touch of the supernatural). Much of one’s reaction to the piece is entirely subjective and individual. Perhaps the playwright is not entirely successful; but one must applaud her chutzpah, for the play gets quite outrageous at times. It’s rather daring, but the audience I saw the play with seemed, for the most part, to have a rollicking good time. So did I. A sense of humor may save us all.
Once again the incomparable Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay furnish us with a lush, fine set. Lighting is by Mary Parker; sound design by Chris Lane.
We are blessed with masterful direction by Thomas W. Jones II. Mr. Jones’ experience is vast and impressive; I think Horizon was fortunate indeed to get him. He guides his talented cast with a wry, sure hand, and they respond by showing you a very good time.
For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.