×

Souls on Fire

Duncan creates an ensemble of characters who share their lives, philosophies and dreams, as well as their reactions to upheaval raging outside the bar. There's only minimal story, here; the bulk of the piece is an exchange of opinions and personal histories from each of the many characters, told in either monologue or in often cumbersome exchanges.

With:
Cast: Oscar Arguello (Book), Jon Clair (Chick), Steve Hartley (Riley), Christian Keiber (MacLaughlin), Bernie Martinez (Z-Win), Skye McKenzie (Charles John Harvey), Trent Miller (Book), Pedro Pano (AKA), Jeris Lee Poindexter (Lenny), Sam Scarber (Miles), M. Darnell Suttles (Short Stack), Charo Toledo (Benita), Breck White (Dutch Boy), Ping Wu (Huong). First-time playwright Patrick Sheane Duncan ("Mr. Holland's Opus") fashions a powerful and well-drawn, if somewhat static, piece about a neighborhood bar in South Central L.A. during the April 1992 riots. Duncan succeeds in capturing the feel of the bar and many of its characters, but he never finds the deeper resonance of these events, which have been explored in other, more successful plays on this subject.

Duncan creates an ensemble of characters who share their lives, philosophies and dreams, as well as their reactions to upheaval raging outside the bar. There’s only minimal story, here; the bulk of the piece is an exchange of opinions and personal histories from each of the many characters, told in either monologue or in often cumbersome exchanges.

As the afternoon of the verdicts progresses to an evening of terror, both the victims and the villains of the riots end up in the bar owned by Miles (Sam Scarber). Barflies Short Stack (M. Darnell Suttles) and Lenny (Jeris Lee Poindexter) already are dispensing wit and wisdom from their barstools when two kids who work in the bar (Oscar Arguello, Trent Miller) arrive carrying stolen beanbag chairs. An injured white truck-driver (Steve Hartley), clearly modeled on Reginald Denny, is comforted by Benita (Charo Toledo), who sells tamales out of her Buick, which is promptly torched in the parking lot.

Popular on Variety

Others arrive in various states of distress: an injured firefighter (Christian Keiber); a tropical-fish store owner (Ping Wu); local gang members (Pedro Pano, Breck White, Bernie Martinez); and, most improbably, an out-of-work white banker (Skye McKenzie).

Duncan’s play is somewhat slow despite its fairly short length and the inherent drama. His gift for dialogue provides the characters with humorous and occasionally poignant observations, especially for Short Stack, the bar’s resident philosopher, performed sharply by the gifted Suttles. Duncan occasionally strays into preachy polemic — jarring in this setting — and the superfluous epilogue steals the thunder of the play’s climax.

Director Bennet Guillory crafts an effective and believable world on the stage, but never finds the deeper emotions either in the characters or in the script. There are fine performances from Poindexter, Hartley, Arguello and Miller. The cast will change on May 23.

Set design by Thomas A. Brown is wonderful, shaping the world of the bar with understated drama. Lighting by Marianne Schneller, costumes by Iona Marshall and sound by Charles Dayton round out an outstanding physical production.

Souls on Fire

Production: Souls on Fire (MET Theatre; 99 seats; $ 20 top) The MET Theatre, Carrie Prods. and the Robey Theatre Co. present a drama in two acts by Patrick Sheane Duncan. Directed by Bennet Guillory.

Crew: Set design, Thomas A. Brown; lighting design, Marianne Schneller; sound design, Charles Dayton; costume design, Iona Marshall. Opened and reviewed, May 3, 1996; runs through June 16. Running time: 90 min.

With: Cast: Oscar Arguello (Book), Jon Clair (Chick), Steve Hartley (Riley), Christian Keiber (MacLaughlin), Bernie Martinez (Z-Win), Skye McKenzie (Charles John Harvey), Trent Miller (Book), Pedro Pano (AKA), Jeris Lee Poindexter (Lenny), Sam Scarber (Miles), M. Darnell Suttles (Short Stack), Charo Toledo (Benita), Breck White (Dutch Boy), Ping Wu (Huong). First-time playwright Patrick Sheane Duncan ("Mr. Holland's Opus") fashions a powerful and well-drawn, if somewhat static, piece about a neighborhood bar in South Central L.A. during the April 1992 riots. Duncan succeeds in capturing the feel of the bar and many of its characters, but he never finds the deeper resonance of these events, which have been explored in other, more successful plays on this subject.

More Film

  • No Hard Feelings

    'No Hard Feelings': Film Review

    At dawn in an orderly, middle-class suburb in regional Germany, three young people — a girl and two guys — stagger home from a night out. Two of them are siblings, two of them friends and two of them are falling in love. One of them is very drunk and tripping over the long blond [...]

  • All the Dead Ones

    'All the Dead Ones': Film Review

    There are a host of important, even vital ideas behind “All the Dead Ones,” a hybrid period piece addressing Brazil’s unresolved legacy of slavery and the imprint it’s had on an all-too-often downplayed contemporary racism of malignant toxicity. Set largely in 1899, 11 years after the abolition of slavery but designed so modern São Paulo [...]

  • Olivia Wilde

    Searchlight Aggressively Pursuing World Rights to Olivia Wilde's 'Perfect' at EFM

    Searchlight Pictures has emerged as the frontrunner for the Olivia Wilde-directed gymnastics movie “Perfect,” amid a days-long bidding war out of Berlin’s EFM. Variety understands that the studio is ‘heavily pursuing’ world rights to the hot title — one of a crop of female-led projects at the market — with A24, Warner Bros. and Neon [...]

  • 'High Ground' Review: Ugly Conflict and

    'High Ground': Film Review

    There’s a hint of John Ford to “High Ground,” a sinewy, sun-baked faceoff between indigenous and invading armies in the Arnhem Land wilderness of Australia, though by now we probably need a better word than “western” for films that situate the tensions and tropes of Hollywood operas in their own distinct geographical context. Handsomely mounted [...]

  • Undine

    'Undine': Film Review

    Christian Petzold’s “Undine” begins with a breakup. Framed tightly on the face of lead actor Paula Beer, we absorb the news as she does. But this is no ordinary separation, and as jilted lovers go, Undine’s far from typical. Her name betrays what sets her apart, although in the vast realm of mythological entities, undines [...]

  • Emma Movie 2020

    'Emma' Starts Strong at Indie Box Office

    Focus Features’ “Emma,” an adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, had a solid opening at the specialty box office this weekend. Director Autumn de Wilde’s feature film debut earned $230,000 in its debut outing across five theaters in New York and Los Angeles, ranking No. 1 in each location. That success translated to a $46,000 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content