×

American Trade

The story of an American hustler in London attempts to channel the city's multicultural vibrancy in a bawdy, energetic form that emulates his historical model.

With:
Pharus - Tunji Kasim
Valentina - Sophie Russell
Aunt Marian - Sheila Reid
Rajiv - Dharmesh Patel

There’s much to admire in the ambition behind hot American scribe Tarell Alvin McCraney’s new play. As the Royal Shakespeare Company’s international writer in residence, McCraney wrote this “contemporary restoration comedy” for and alongside members of the RSC long ensemble, who are working together for 30 months. His story of an American hustler in London attempts to channel the city’s multicultural vibrancy in a bawdy, energetic form that emulates his historical model. But Jamie Lloyd’s labored and noisy production is not as fun to watch as everyone involved is trying (too) hard to make it be.

The titular trade (that is to say, gay prostitute) is Pharus (Tunji Kasim), a gorgeous mixed-race American who escapes trouble with a powerful New York record mogul (Clarence Smith) by landing a job (via a single Skype call) at a top London PR firm, Move, run by his great-aunt Marian (Sheila Reid). By the time he arrives in central London from Heathrow, he’s performed cunnilingus on his high-strung airline seatmate (Hannah Young); been perplexed by the uncanny resemblance between his pole-dancing best friend, an air hostess, and a London Transport employee (all played by Debbie Korley); and assembled an improbable, multiracial cohort of immigrants and refugees who he sells to Aunt Marian as Move’s inaugural modeling company.

Popular on Variety

Pitted against him is his cousin Valentina (the fabulously funny Sophie Russell), who is her mother Marian’s ambitious deputy (“I offer people a way to live publicly decently”). She quickly deduces that she must undermine Pharus to keep control of Move.

The language is colloquial and enjoyably filthy, the pop culture references come thick and fast (Lady Gaga is quoted and Tyra Banks name-checked), and the attempt is made to blast through political correctness with a no-holds-barred engagement with ethnic and racial stereotypes, and the possible realities that lie behind them. But McCraney’s insights — the rap world is built on the objectification of women; illegal immigrants are desperate to better their lives in the West; reality TV and the culture of PR are shallow and venal — are not original and therefore do not fully justify the recirculation of stereotype.

Soutra Gilmour’s set of boldly graffiti’d walls and Neil Austin’s varied array of dangling light fixtures create a lively, trendy mood, and as the action moves rapidly between locations, the necessity for a bare-stage approach becomes apparent. But this adds to an overall feeling of barrage: The mood is relentlessly frenetic, and scene after scene is played with the actors shouting unnecessarily.

The principal pleasures here are great comic turns from the well-oiled ensemble. Reid’s perennially sozzled matriarch, Geoffrey Freshwater as a licentious old toff in a aquamarine thong, Smith’s impeccable timing as the rap kingpin Jules, Dharmesh Patel as Pharus’ sidekick and perhaps-love interest Rajiv and particularly Russell as the incresasingly strung-out Val are highlights, and Kasim’s charisma and versatility bode well for a bright future on screen as well as stage.

But the uncertain combination here of attempted frothy fun and too-obvious social commentary exhausts auds’ attempts to play along.

American Trade

Hampstead Theater, London; 324 seats; £22 $36 top

Production: A Royal Shakespeare Company presentation of a play in one act by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by Jamie Lloyd.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Soutra Gilmour; lighting, Neil Austin; music and sound, Ben and Max Ringham; movement, Ann Yee; fights, Kate Waters; production manager, Rebecca Watts. Opened, reviewed June 8, 2011. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Pharus - Tunji Kasim
Valentina - Sophie Russell
Aunt Marian - Sheila Reid
Rajiv - Dharmesh PatelWith: Adam Burton, David Carr, Geoffrey Freshwater, Gruffudd Glyn, Debbie Korley, David Rubin, Simone Saunders, Clarence Smith, James Traherne, James Tucker, Larrington Walker, Kirsty Woodward, Hannah Young, Samantha Young.

More Legit

  • Frozen review musical

    Warmth and Humor Pervade Pantages Production of 'Frozen' the Musical

    In 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” hit screens like a 100 mile-per-hour snowball, sparking a pop cultural phenomenon in which little girls and boys pranced about dressed in Anna and Elsa and Olaf costumes while belting aloud “Let It Go,” Elsa’s feminist anthemic response to ice powers rendering her a societal outcast. The animated movie won two [...]

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton review

    'My Name is Lucy Barton': Theater Review

    Laura Linney is in love. Just watch the radiant expression on her face as she wraps her arms around the character of Lucy Barton, a role she played in two separate engagements at the Bridge Theater in London, and is now reprising on Broadway in “My Name is Lucy Barton.” The feeling is obviously mutual, [...]

  • 'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to

    'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to Air Weekly, Syndicate Nationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal” will become nationally syndicated, marking a first for a program about the Great White Way. Beginning in fall 2020, the monthly show will increase frequency to air weekly. The show is hosted and executive-produced by 12-time Emmy Award winner Tamsen Fadal, a news anchor at WPIX, the channel that initially [...]

  • Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy

    Listen: What Laura Linney Learns From Bad Shows

    For Laura Linney, every stage experience is a learning experience. “Even the bad ones!” she cheerfully declared on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Even the ones that are really bad, and I’ve been really bad in some things,” continued the Emmy winner, currently back on Broadway [...]

  • 'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With

    'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With CAA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Zawe Ashton has signed with CAA, Variety has learned. Most recently seen on Broadway in the hit revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betryal,” Ashton is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. In addition to being an in-demand actress, Ashton is a director, playwright and author. While earning critical raves for “Betrayal,” Ashton made her debut as a [...]

  • Michael Feinstein Kristin Chenoweth Sutton Foster

    Jerry Herman Memorial Set for Feb. 3 at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

    A memorial service for Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman will be held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Michael Feinstein is producing the tribute, which will feature performances from a number of notable legit stars, including Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, Sutton Foster, Kelli O’Hara, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley. Angela [...]

  • Fran Drescher 'Good Fortune' film premiere,

    Fran Drescher's 'The Nanny' Getting Broadway Musical Makeover

    Fran Drescher’s legendary character Fran Fine – known for her nasally voice and gravity-defying hair-dos in the ’90s sitcom “The Nanny” – is coming to Broadway. Drescher and Peter Marc Jacobson, who created the original series, will write the book for “The Nanny: A New Musical,” which is in development. The series followed Drescher as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content