Prologue Theatre Company at Steppenwolf Garage. By Katori Hall. Directed by TaRon Patton. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
The Mountaintop scribe Katori Hall wrote this piece, about the African-American residents and regulars of a Memphis boarding house and beauty shop at the end of World War II, while studying playwriting at Juilliard. That could explain the degree to which Saturday Night/Sunday Morning seems to be studying other plays. The sitcom vibe and klatsch of sassy, gossipy Southern women gathering around hair dryers and shampoo sinks almost inevitably brings to mind Steel Magnolias. A central plot line, in which a writer in the house is enlisted to ghost-pen letters to another resident who’s despondent over the lack of mail from her enlisted sweetheart, has a touch of Cyrano de Bergerac. And the play’s whole guiding spirit of lavender-scented deliquium seems to come straight from Tennessee Williams.
Which is not to say Hall’s play is lifting from other sources—only that you can see where her story’s headed at all times. Plot predictability aside, though, both Hall’s script and Prologue Theatre Company’s production (presented as part of this year’s Garage Rep at Steppenwolf) have pleasures to proffer. TaRon Patton’s handsomely staging benefits from Yu Shibagaki’s nicely detailed scenic design, with winning performances by ensemble members including Kona N. Burks as the mistress of the house, and Kyra Morris and Earliana McLaurin as attached-at-the-hip church ladies who hate to see a rumor go unspread.
The younger members of the cast, though, often seem to be playing too broad and modern. And the playwright makes a real misstep with a scene that makes literal the mental struggle between the letter-writer (Angela Alise) and her vision of the soldier (Tyrone Phillips) whose name she’s signing to her missives. The stylistic leap required for this encounter is so jarringly out of place with the rest of the play, it’s like night and day.