In The Wine Time, playwright Ed Bullins takes us to Derby Street, a side street within a northern metropolis, where we are exposed to the vicissitudes of human life. The audience finds itself melding into the refrains, tempos, rhythms and beats of the steamy boulevards. The hush of sneakers and the clatter of high heels move swiftly down cement pavements, echoing the pace of the city. Everywhere, the buzz of the streets, hold its inhabitants in its gripe as they engage in the ebb and flow that bind them together. Called by a lure that ensnares its victims, they engage in a dance of pain and joy, love and hate, fear and anger, disappointment and pride. The heat of the street boils in the blood of the community, exciting emotions hot and cold, loving and violent, unrepentant in tying the community together through its commonality, familiarity, shared desperation and passions.
Cliff (Kim Sullivan) and Lou are part of this communal street life and many nights engage in the drinking, fighting and choreographed brawls that take place outside their front stoop. Loud and rowdy the inebriated partiers annoy the old lady across the street played by Sandra Reeves-Phillips. Cliff and Lou are opposites. Yet passion and low esteem binds them together so tightly they are willing to forgive the verbal and physical abuse they heap onto one another. Their nephew Ray, (Lou’s dead sister’s child), lives with them, although the couple has different ideas on how to rear Ray. Lou (Shirlene Victoria Quigley) regrets having let Cliff in his efforts to make a man out of Ray, introduce the teen to wine because Ray has taken to it more enthusiastically than Lou would like. Cliff also wants Ray to enlist in the Navy in a bid to get off Derby Street and out into the world. Lou thinks he is far too young and naïve for both drink and the Navy. Budding into manhood, Ray is open to happenstance and falls for a beautiful woman older than he. He fancies himself in love; although he lies to his uncle about scoring women. Jobless and sometimes bullying, Cliff dreams of his glory days of wine, women and song and tries to recapture them while Lou is at work. Suspicious, wine loosens Lou’s tongue as she expresses her disappointment in Cliff for womanizing, cajoling Ray, and for never holding a job for long.
Pulled by the opposing forces of his aunt and uncle and the lure of the street, Ray is impressionable. Influenced by Lou, he is kind to others even when it makes him a target to the neighborhood idlers played by Eddie Wardel, Matthew Faroul, and Harrison Lee who sit around on the stoops sharing the wine, laughter, flirtations and lust for the neighborhood women portrayed by Catherine Peeples, Lindsay Finnie, and the young Beautrix (Eboni Witcher). Women, who cling to hope so fiercely they tolerate the men’s attentions just for an ounce of love and a kind word. Everyone wanting something but not knowing quite how to get it.
Young Ray (Khadim Diop) is an eager student of his uncle gradually falling sway to his Uncle’s influence. From Cliff’s perspective that meant, cussing, fighting, drinking and womanizing. Although a good kid, Ray begins to imitate some of his uncle’s less than stellar qualities. Goated on by his uncle and some of the neighborhood men, Ray tries to live up to his uncle’s expectations. The different messages and stimuli when doused in wine become confounded in Ray’s brain causing him to make a life changing mistake that draws the entire neighborhood into its outcome. What happens next suggests sometimes adversity births both heroes and dead men as well as opportunity and loss. In the Wine Time concludes in a web of situations and circumstance that demands a sacrifice.
Directed by Mansoor Najee-ullah, In The Wine Time reminds us of our human frailties and the trials we are put through to test our worth as human kind. The play ended Sunday at the Castillo Theater on West 42nd Street in Manhattan and was well worth the go see.
Photo by Gerry Goodstein