Pictured: Dianne Yvette and Rufus Burns. Photo by Cory Weaver.
By Marissa Carter
Every so often there comes a show that is perfect in its execution, and so disturbing that it stays with you long after the last curtain call. MAN IN LOVE is that show.
The story takes place in a Depression-Era city — really it could be any city. It is a world where money is hard to come by and people make friends as a matter of survival. Even so, finding friends of the right color and status is a high priority, and everyone is required to remember their place. The people who live in this city are streetwise and realistic, while still being cautiously hopeful in spite of themselves. Through their eyes, we get a panoramic view of life, love, and death as a murderer stalks the streets and each person has to decide what really matters most.
Kansas City native Christina Anderson is a playwright that is not afraid to delve into the dark side of human nature. This show is intentionally gritty and rough around the edges; demonstrating every taboo in society, and tackling topics no one likes to talk about. Yet her wordplay is captivating, and the messages are delivered with such grace and subtlety that they foster compassion rather than offense.
The poetry of Anderson’s script is fully realized under the direction of Marissa Wolf, who somehow turns a simple set and small cast of six into a bustling, crowded city where it is easy to feel lost and invisible. Even the scene changes are impressive because of the way they blend in and add to the show instead of taking the audience out of the illusion.
The characters in this play are so vitally flawed that you can’t help but love them. Darlynn (Dianne Yvette) and Bernice (Bianca Leigh) demonstrate the importance of maintaining friendships in spite of fear; Leigh (Justin Barron), Walker (Michael R. Pauley), and Hazel (Emily Shackleford) take the audience on a journey from love to hate and back again; and Paul Pare Jr. (Rufus Burns) expertly blurs the line between monster and man.
As the characters interact and plotlines deepen, Burns steps fully into the spotlight (literally and figuratively) to deliver some chilling monologues. His command of the character, and the stage, is undeniable, and he has no problem building the tension in the theater to the exact level required to keep the audience on the edge of their seats for a show that is endearing, emotional, frightening, and completely unforgettable.
MAN IN LOVE is part of the OriginKC: NEW WORKS FESTIVAL, produced by the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, and runs through May 28, 2017. Due to violence and adult themes, the show is only recommended for audience members 16 and over. For more information visit kcrep.org.