Playwright Zakiyyah Alexander may have the gift of gab, but she hasn't found her voice here.
Every summer, Second Stage opens its uptown theater to emerging playwrights with distinctive voices. Zakiyyah Alexander may have the gift of gab, but she hasn’t found her voice in “10 Things to Do Before I Die.” Play gives beaucoup talk time to two estranged sisters who make up after they go through 10 boxes of family memorabilia left by their recently deceased father. But with a shapeless plot and no action to drive the arbitrary events, the piece comes across as more of a character study — of people with little to say but an overwhelming need to make themselves heard.
Vida (Natalie Venetia Belcon), the older, more responsible sister, teaches high school and is having a dead-end affair with a married man. Nina (Tracie Thoms) has an adoring live-in lover but no career, being too neurotic to write a follow-up to her successful first book, “The Men Who Fucked Nina.”
The only thing the sisters seem to have in common is an urge to talk about themselves. And while neither of them has anything particularly illuminating to say about their father, the unseen mystery man in this play, they both seem to blame him for their rotten relationships with men.
The trouble with the sisters’ talk is that it isn’t always consistent with their behavior. Vida is supposed to be the kind of needy woman who throws herself at any man who whistles. But Vida’s demands of her lover don’t seem unreasonable, and in Belcon’s kind performance she comes across as a woman who is perhaps just a bit too generous.
Thoms has more to work with in narcissistic Nina, whose flamboyant personality has her bouncing all over the bedroom, limbs askew and dreadlocks flying, having tantrums because she can’t express herself in her writing or find any satisfaction in her doting lover’s attentions. But while Thoms is fun to watch as this selfish baby, the character is seriously unlikable.
There are three male characters in the play, and under Jackson Gay’s straightforward helming, they are played with as much dignity as the actors can muster. But these are two-dimensional figures of fantasy, and only young Kyle Beltran wins a measure of sympathy for his warm portrayal of a high school student who takes Tennessee Williams a bit too literally. Like the music supplied by Broken Chord Collective, the kid seems to live in the real world, rather than in a playwright’s dream.