Is the gender gap wider than the racial gap? Would any two men of different races communicate more honestly with each other than any male-female couple of the same race? These are some of the questions raised by William a. Parker’s Waitin’ 2 End Hell, a forthright comedy-drama now onstage at Darkhorse Theater. That Parker’s play is written about African Americans lends it an especial sociological focus, as the author portrays upwardly mobile contemporary blacks who might easily be found in Atlanta or Los Angeles or Nashville.
These folks are experiencing the American dream, but they’re not immune to the nightmares that can come with it. Their marriages are strained by an overtaxed work regimen, not to mention the pressures and concerns of child-rearing. Some are even facing divorce—which gives cause for one thirtysomething character to announce that “child support is the black man’s crucifix.”
The key players in this domestic trial are Dante and Diane, a well-married couple with two children. Their friends have gathered for an evening of small-talk and libations, but the general goodwill turns to tension when Dante’s pals, Alvin and Larry, begin to flex their macho pride. They gripe that females are manipulative, assert that men should be the central figures in their women’s lives, and support their arguments by citing such provocative if spurious role models as boxer Mike Tyson and Shakespeare’s angry Moor Othello. The swaggering complaints reach critical mass, then are defused, but not before we begin to see the glimmers of trouble in Diane and Dante’s marriage.
When it’s confirmed that Diane, an advertising executive, is having an affair with a work associate, the expected complications ensue. Dante has suspected something all along, but his traditionalist mind-set has blurred his ability to face hard facts. At the same time, he has responsibly rebuffed the affectionate overtures of family friend Shay, a striking woman who makes it known that she has wanted him for a long time.
The bulk of the play’s action concerns how Dante and Diane resolve their differences. It’s an often bitter struggle, filled with psychological jousting and desperate recrimination, not to mention high drama when Dante resorts to wielding a gun, an act that reduces his seemingly right-minded motivations to primitive impulse.
The effectiveness of Sista Style’s production mirrors the script’s own mix of strengths and weaknesses: it’s an uneven roller coaster ride of emotions, with some sincere humor and scattershot targeting of critical thematic points. Parker’s play has its share of engrossing scenes, primarily those when the males are connecting fraternally. Yet others still seem in need of structural rethinking, especially as regards the Diane/Dante denouement.
Director Barry Scott’s blocking reads fairly haphazard on occasion—not always cleanly or meaningfully sketched out—and his actors hadn’t quite settled into a consistent rhythm on opening weekend. On the other hand, when the players run uninhibitedly with some of Parker’s more exciting speeches, there’s no denying the firepower. Kenneth B. Dozier and Gray W. Hemphill III, as Dante’s golf-playing buddies, fare best with their confessional message of male liberation, camaraderie and mutual support. Tamiko Robinson, as Shay, displays definite poise and presence, even if her lack of stage experience is in evidence.
David Chattam and Mary McCallum are well cast in the leads. They, too, seem to rise and fall with a befuddling inconsistency, a situation that probably has more to do with the play’s shortcomings than the actors’ own. They mostly stay true to their characters and as such manage an essentially believable portrait of what happens when a marital union strains. “That’s what love is,” Dante says, fumbling to justify what Diane means to him. “You do it ’cause it pleases you.” If only marriage were that simple.
To its credit, Waitin’ 2 End Hell dares to go into areas of male-female dynamics that might be viewed as politically incorrect. That alone makes it of interest, though it has its share of provocative language, and some seductive moments definitely mark the play as adult fare. The Sista Style production, while just good enough to expose playwright Parker’s lapses in consistency, also affords us undeniably theatrical moments that fully promote the author’s controversial talking points.