Four Queens — No Trump

Playwright Ted Lange certainly dotes on his four vibrant ladies --- Deola (Aloma Wright), Jocenia (Pat Forte), Maude (Ann Weldon) and Edna (Peggy Blow) --- allowing them free reign over his work. But director Lange should have insisted on some judicious trimming and editing of this often hilarious but ultimately cumbersome and flawed play. These magnificently colorful women, who were not totally secure with their dialogue on opening weekend, would have come off much better with less gab and more plot.

With:
Aloma Wright (Deola), Pat Forte (Jocenia), Ann Weldon (Maude), Peggy Blow (Edna), Robert Pine (Jefferson).

Playwright Ted Lange certainly dotes on his four vibrant ladies — Deola (Aloma Wright), Jocenia (Pat Forte), Maude (Ann Weldon) and Edna (Peggy Blow) — allowing them free reign over his work. But director Lange should have insisted on some judicious trimming and editing of this often hilarious but ultimately cumbersome and flawed play. These magnificently colorful women, who were not totally secure with their dialogue on opening weekend, would have come off much better with less gab and more plot.

Set in the South-Central L.A. living room of the psychically gifted Deola (she knows when someone is at her door before they knock), four friends gather every Friday evening for a session of bid whist (“the black folks’ bridge”). Though they take their card-playing seriously, the game is merely a platform for each of the ladies to soar through a cathartic panorama of self-revelation. They speak of many things — food, clothes, children, etc. — but the overriding focus of their mental energies is sex and the men who give it to them.

Lange has invested so much interesting history into each character that he appears satisfied to just let them ramble on, relying on his talented ensemble to carry the work without giving them someplace to go. The battering of wealthy and promiscuous Jocenia (her husband caught her with the pizza delivery boy) and the death of Deola’s mother-in-law are mere plot ripples in an ocean of titillating chatter.

The one potentially strong plot development is the introduction of Jefferson (Robert Pine) as Texas-born schoolteacher Edna’s lover. Yet Lange doesn’t even allow this intriguing relationship to develop without a long, tedious discussion about their mutual family histories involving a lynching 50 years earlier and a totally unnecessary foray into Jefferson’s penile enhancement.

It is almost enough, however, simply to enjoy the interaction of these four talented actresses. Blow’s Edna exudes a captivating aura of wit, beauty, intelligence and sensuality. It is a treat just to watch her deceptively naive card-playing tactics as she inevitably obliterates the competition. As Edna’s playing partner, Wright is quite believable as the almost annoyingly clairvoyant Deola. The ultimate nurturing earth mother, Wright’s Deola is always in tune with the shifting dynamics of the women around her.

Forte’s shop-till-you-drop Jocenia is refreshingly uncomplicated and unrepentant as the ultimate consumer, whether it be of clothes or sexual fulfillment. Weldon has the most difficulty with her lines, but her characterization as the straight-talking, exuberantly vulgar Maude is first-rate. No matter what kind of aesthetic synonyms the other ladies utilize in their sexual word play, Weldon’s Maude always reduces things to their most basic and graphic level.

Adding immensely to the mood of this work are the richly attractive costumes of Ian M. Carter and the quite believable and workable living-room set of Victoria Profitt.

Four Queens -- No Trump

Whitefire Theatre: 99 seats; $15 top

Production: Pipe Dream Prods. and Blackwing Prods. present a play in three acts, written and directed by Ted Lange. Executive producer, Michael Ajakwe Jr.; co-producer, Mary Ley.

Cast: Aloma Wright (Deola), Pat Forte (Jocenia), Ann Weldon (Maude), Peggy Blow (Edna), Robert Pine (Jefferson).Set design, Victoria Profitt; costume design, Ian M. Carter. Opened May 3, 1997; reviewed May 4; runs through May 25. Running time: 2 hours, 25 mins.

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