Robert O’Hara’s “An American Maul” at the Wells-Metz Theatre opens with a scene of a trio of the founding fathers, Adams, Jefferson and Franklyn working on lines from the Constitution. As Adams and Franklin stand on either side of the author admiring his rhetorical efforts, Jefferson is buggering a slave. It could be shocking, brutal or disgusting, but in the production directed by Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, it and much of the show has a sort of genially, inventively comic quality.
The nub of “An American Ma(u)l”‘s plot is the bad news of a deep economic downturn. The good news from the kung fu fighting, flag costumed, president, Larry Bao is that things can be saved by growing a new kind of cotton. The bad news is that it requires such intense cultivation that the only solution is the repeal of the 14th amendment and the return of all the descendents of African An American slaves to slavery.
Naturally, there are some rough spots in this simple solution. The city of Detroit riots and is destroyed with a tactical nuc’. And of course the slave catcher culture is activated.
The action of “An American Ma(u)l” loosely wrapped around two families. There’s the sexy would be southern lady Marilyn, Erin Ehlers, with her wonderfully mobile paralyzed husband Tex, Matt Thompson Gripe and there twin sons Smith, Kelly Lusk, and Wesson, Thomas Asare. Once you’re finished winking at the Smith and Wesson combination, you can wink again, because one twin is definitely largely, sweatily, white and the other distinctly, darkly, black. The boys are united in their courtship of the neighborhood Juliet, Eunice Abena Ntiamoah, and they both comically woo and even couple to the words of Shakespeare’s Romeo.
The second family, the parents of Juliet, are the uppity Delaware, Jamaal McCray and his delightfully spacey wife Georgina, Dawn Thomas. In one of the wrinkles of the new order with the revocation of the 14th amendment, it seems that there is a clause about “whiteification.” Delaware and Georgina set off for Monticello with family artifacts to prove that they have the white blood of Thomas Jefferson. There they meet Jefferson’s suspicious ancient concubine, Sally Hemings, Bernice Darkoa. Despite their success, it seems that “whiteification” only helps some and Juliet is badly beaten by an enthusiastic mob.
“An American Ma(u)l” is a very funny, inventive show in a creative production with some great characters and some delightful moments of acting. Although director Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe promises a show that will shock and outrage, and there are plenty of “n” words, a handful of “f” words and two “m-f”s, I’d have to say that the general effect is mostly around the level of “Saturday Night Live!” In a tip of the hat to that august institution, the curtain call is done to solo saxophone with the cast members congratulating one another. Tuesday night’s audience was pleased to applaud the celebration.
The IU Department of Theatre and Drama’s production of “An American Ma(u)l” plays evenings at seven-thirty through Saturday. In addition there is a Saturday matinee at two-thirty.
You can find this review and an interview with director Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe on our web site at WFIU dot ORG.