This Week in Theater
Review by Rose Desena
Friendship is forever, until it’s not.
Two kids grow up together in the ghetto; their common unbreakable bond is a basketball. Their friendship is strong and their game is so tightly synced that they became a two-man “dream team.” Compelling, yet as opportunities come their way so do complications. They settle on a college in Miami, committing to go all the way to the top and to achieve the kind of life that most kids only dream of having.
Amir Abdullah (Playwright) has done an astounding job of depicting the strong emotional connection between the characters Hakeem (Y’lan Noel) and Lou (Amir Abdullah). Both actors explode onto the stage with so much personality you feel every bit of their raw energy. Lou, cocky and full of raging testosterone, wants the high-life while his best mate Hakeem decides to seek a more spiritual path.
Curious, and needing to find his own identity in life, Hakeem explores the teachings of Islam. He connects with a brother named Bilal (Rickie Peete) as well as a female member of the Muslim Student Association, Tamana (Ulka Simone Mohanty). As a result of his new interests and spiritual path, his relationships quickly change. Lou is put off by Hakeem’s decision to become part of a religious organization that is plagued with a bad reputation, misunderstood by many Americans, and most importantly…one that disapproves of the life that both of them are struggling to attain. Things get a bit thorny between these young men when they embark on their separate journeys.
The set and lighting design, done by Jeff McLaughlin, was great and it provided a delightful visual experience. The scene changes were expertly directed and seamlessly executed. I don’t know if it was the director’s idea (Bill Mendieta) or that of the writer, to use street language instead of formal theater diction. But, for me, that rapid dialog full of slang and attitude added a realistic dimension. Abdullah’s knowledge regarding the teachings of Islam is accurate and enlightening. His writing is memorably sincere, allowing audiences to deeply connect with this touching story.
Although I enjoyed the show, it’s not without flaws. Many new playwrights overlook that classic adage of “less is more.” I saw no need for the second story that comes out through the other relationship that Lou gets involved in.
I can only guess that it was there to place emphasis on what happens when you lack spiritual faith, and take the “unenlightened” path. Audiences would already expect this from a stereotypical college athletic star. It made the play drag at times, taking away from the scripts power and clouding the message. In a strange way it showed a different kind of prejudice, one that was already established in the beginning and later becoming repetitive.
However, none of that took away from the fact that it’s an admirable production developed with love from a good group of actors and a hard working talented writer. This play was developed under the guidance of the Skylight Theatre’s INKubator program.
“Pray To Ball” is a hearty slice of life, and thought provoking entertainment.
Written: by Amir Abdullah
Director: Bill Mendieta
Cast; Amir Abdullah, Lindsey Beeman, Brice Harris, Ulka Simone Mohanty, Y’lan Noel, and Rickie Peete
Runs Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm and Sundays @ 2pm (2 hours includes a 15 minute intermission). Matinees post show “Beyond Conversation” is free. Closes May 25th
Skylight Theater Complex, 1816 1/2 North Vermont, LA, 90027
Skylightix.com or call 213 761 7061