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Waitin' 2 End Hell

Love may be "a many-splendored thing" when you're falling into it, but to stay in it is work, and when you're falling out of it, well, it can be ugly.

In Shadow Theatre Company's Waitin' 2 End Hell, the title says it all about Dante and Diane's marriage. What makes this story unique is that it's told through the lens of the African-American experience.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the aftereffects of slavery in America, none better than Stanley Elkins' work that centered on its psychological heirlooms and their expressions in the present. As Jeffrey Nickelson, Shadow's artistic producing director, noted in the program, there is a lot of forgiveness that must occur between black men and women for interpersonal behavior that was to a significant degree shaped by slavery and its ongoing aftermath.

Photo of Jada Roberts as Diane and Jeffrey Nickelson as Dante
Jada Roberts as Diane and
Jeffrey Nickelson as Dante
Photo: Mark Manger
At the center of all healthy cultures is a strong and extended family, and Dante (Nickelson) is a believer in providing such a life for his two young children. Diane (Jada Roberts) appears never to have had family ties. As their marriage develops and Diane's career advancement opportunities outshine Dante's, she grows detached from their life together.

Nickelson and Roberts work well—together and separately navigating the vicissitudes of Dante's and Diane's relationship and their individual growth. We see flashes of their love and passion on the rare occasions when the story reconnects them, but the intensity of Nickelson and Roberts' chemistry is mostly revealed in the emotional depths they reach when exploring the fissures of the couple's marriage.

As the drama unfolds, conversations between Dante and Diane and their friends cover all the usual aspects of male-female issues—love, sex, birth control, children, and money—plus racism, welfare, single-parent families, violence and incarceration. Here, William Parker's dialogue shines with some sharp exchanges and captivating monologues.

In a significant development for the company, two Denver Center Theatre Company members are part of this production: Charles Weldon, who directs, and Harvy Blanks, who plays Larry, one of Dante and Diane's friends.

Weldon gets the most out of his actors and the material, which in some cases is stunning and in a couple of cases contrived.

In addition to Nickelson's and Roberts' complementary performances, Blanks captivates us with his bravado and storytelling as a guy with worlds of experience when it comes to women and marriage. As Alvin, Dante's closest friend, Hugo Jon Sayles nicely balances the reverie of male camaraderie with brotherly support, and shows his panache for swapping tales as well.

Diane lacks this depth of understanding from her girlfriends, Shay (Simone St. John), who makes it plain she wants Dante, and Angela (Yukako Doi), whose traditional values clash with the liberated Diane's notions of equality. It's from this female perspective that Parker's writing falters, resulting in acting challenges and performance issues: providing no context for Diane's change of heart, inadequate shading for Shay's vampish tactics, and a lack of inner strength in Angela's reserve.

The wealth of comedic elements, however, which had the audience hooting and calling, punctuated by riveting dramatic situations, outweighs the script's shortcomings, and shows us how far we need to go in forgiving each other and healing the still-festering wounds of America's checkered past.

 

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