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Spunk at Court Theatre | Theater review

Seret Scott’s honest and vivacious production celebrates the raw spirit of Zora Neale Hurston’s language.

Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Kelvyn Bell and Alexis J. Rogers in Spunk at Court Theatre

Sumptuously lyrical with a naturalist grit, the writing of Zora Neale Hurston is the foundation of Spunk. Adapted by George C. Wolfe, the 1991 piece tells three stories focusing on themes of retribution, desperation and redemption. Seret Scott’s honest and vivacious production celebrates the raw spirit of Hurston’s language.

From the country homes of Eatonvile, Florida, to the hustling streets of Harlem, Spunk presents the early-20th-century black American experience through a mixture of song, domestic drama and farcical comedy. A washerwoman escapes the grips of an abusive husband, two pathetic male prostitutes duel on the street corner, and a husband finds the path to forgiveness; each story is tonally distinct but united to the others through a common element: Sex is a constant throughout, used as a weapon, punishment and reward, but Hurston is acutely aware of the emotional stakes that come with intimacy. Sex can be as treacherous as the snake that sneaks into the washerwoman’s bucket, fake as the waves in a pimp’s hair and more valuable than a thousand gilded six-bits.

While the short-story structure can present challenges in fully developing characters, Court’s talented ensemble has the vocal and physical versatility needed to give each character a distinct appearance and personality. Bridging the stories are musical sequences featuring petite, powerful Alexis J. Rogers and blues guitarist Kelvyn Bell; their carefree chemistry keeps the tone light during their jazzy asides.

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