Theater review by Regina Robbins
Jonathan Payne’s The Revolving Cycles Truly and Steadily Roll’d doesn't break the fourth wall so much as completely dismantle it. From its very first moments, the play insists that the audience participate in the action, no matter how uncomfortable that becomes. We are asked to donate spare change, to engage in call and response, even to comfort a grief-stricken mother at the funeral of her teenage son.
Set in the Oblong—a fictional inner city that’s everywhere and nowhere—the play follow a pint-sized, foul-mouthed street kid named Karma (Kara Young) as she searches for her missing foster brother. Along the way, she butts heads with familiar urban figures: a long-suffering teacher, a stressed-out teenage mom, a beaten-down ex con. Through Payne’s poetic language and keen psychological insight, the people of the Oblong seem multidimensional and real, even when they are pushed to their limits. They’re embodied by a stellar cast that includes Keith Randolph Smith as Gotto, a 21st-century version of Charles Dickens’s Fagin, and Lynda Gravatt as funeral director Madame Profit (pronounced “Pro-fee,” she insists).
Awoye Timpo's production for the Playwrights Realm is funny, heart-wrenching and profoundly disturbing, raising questions about race, poverty and violence but declining to provide tidy answers. Is this a dramaturgical failure or stone-cold truth-telling? Whatever you conclude, Payne’s play will cycle through your mind long after it’s over.
Duke on 42nd Street (Off Broadway). By Jonathan Payne. Directed by Awoye Timpo. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.
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