Hours after leaving Island City Stage in Wilton Manors, I’m still trying to unpack all the issues that playwright Andrew Kramer tackles in his world premiere thriller “Armature.”
Racism, political tribalism, violence, sexual orientation, internalized homophobia, gender roles, adoption, youthful defiance, addiction, ageism and “daddy” issues are just a few of the demons that surface in the head-spinning two-hour drama.
It’s a long list, and it gets worse, but elaborating further would spoil some key plot developments. Honestly, I was exhausted from the unrelenting onslaught of twists by the time the lights finally came up and the cast took their bows.
The Armature is a seedy gay nightclub and the bar is manned by Mama, a jaded queen who remembers the days a generation or two earlier when police raids were commonplace. “Armature” — the play — involves two very different “families” whose lives intersect in shocking ways: Evan and Shod, gay men who connect at the bar, and Blythe, an African-American politician, and her husband and daughter.
Evan (Matthew Salas) is a naïve, self-absorbed (and annoying) Millennial blogger who ran away after his sugar daddy suffered a heart attack. He also has a slight meth problem. Shod (Michael Ford) is the dark, handsome and mysterious trick who quickly asserts command of his life.
Blythe (Karen Stephens) is idealistic, ambitious and career-driven, while her husband Denson (Keith Wade) has compromised his standing in their marriage to support her aspirations. Monica (Yesenia Ozuna) is their adopted daughter, who naturally acts out whenever possible, while pushing every one of Blythe’s buttons.
Mama (Kent Chambers-Wilson) not only serves Evan and Shod in their scenes at the bar, but also serves as a sort of narrator, announcing the timeline and conducting “interjections” that halt the action in order to offer backstories for each of the characters.
Given the convoluted plot and overly complicated characters, these theatrical devices offer much-needed structure to Kramer’s play. In reality, he has two worthwhile plays forcibly stitched together. There’s so much material in both stories that could be explored and refined in a more meaningful way.
Island City Stage and co-directors Andy Rogow and Michael Leeds offer the work a sincere production. Robert F. Wolin’s abstract set, accentuated by lighting from Preston Bircher, serves the many scene changes well, while David Hart’s sound design helps the audience jump back and forth from the Armature bar
Surprisingly, even on the third night of the show, the cast frequently stumbled over their lines. Some playwrights are just better at constructing dialogue than others, so that may be partially to blame. And Carbonell-winner Stephens, one of the region’s most lauded actresses, seemed especially ill at ease and often underutilized. “Armature” is not an easy play to perform or watch, as noted earlier, and hopefully the cast will quickly relax into their roles for future performances.
There’s a lot for everyone to consider in “Armature” and, with a little more work and editing, Kramer’s play could find life in LGBT and mainstream theaters across the country.
The world premiere of Andrew Kramer’s “Armature” is being performed through Feb. 27 at Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.