By Bob Evans
After a long theater season filled with dramas and dark comedies, time is long past for a flat-out, laugh-out-loud comedy with no dark turns, no lessons to be learned, and no deep hidden meanings to ponder, so, “Grape’s Vine” at the Just Off Broadway Theatre fills the gap, giving theatergoers the opportunity to sit back, laugh, and enjoy a fun family-friendly evening.
Jacqueline Gafford, admittedly known for writing more historical and dramatic plays, said she just wanted to write something funny that everyone could enjoy and laugh about. Goal met. “Grape’s Vine” grabs the audience’s attention in the first few minutes, unfurls the laughs, and they just do not stop. Two siblings open the show, defining their characters and setting up the frame to follow. As each character enters, the scene fills with new targets for laughs.
With a head filled with high expectations and romantic thoughts, Cecelia and her cavilier-minded brother, Eddie clash on their ideas of sexual experience. They are the grand children of Theodore “Grape” Mendenhall who worked his way up from a grocery store owner in a small southern town where he knew all the residents. His son, Raymond, has worked his way up to owning several after attending cooking school to pursue his dream. He married Felicity, a hard-minded English major with a PhD who knows proper grammar and has no problems correcting everyone in earshot.
Others who drift in an out of the apartment bring new focuses for the Mendenhall family. Stephen Wayne Williams serves as Cecilia’s fiance-to-be; Lamplin continues to be Grape’s best ally and a cat-breeder by trade; Sandra charms Grape and his intentions with her are just not honorable.
Overall, “Grape’s Vine” is a mixed up mess that’s funny and entertaining as the mess gets worse and more complicated with each line. The dialogue sparkles throughout. “Grape’s Vine” brings a comedy to the Black voice that’s not a common pick for many theaters, but it should be.
While watching the show, I was transported back to my childhood, watching black and white daytime TV reruns during summer vacation. One of my favorite shows, Amos ‘N Andy comes to mind with Saphire and Kingfish as major characters. The comedy was light-hearted, family-oriented, and fun for all audiences. “Grape’s Vine” reminds of that simpler time and early TV comedy where problem resolution comes regularly. (And, yes, I am old.)
“Grape’s Vine” delivers quality comedy in a family-style package and offers enjoyment to a varied audience. Gafford wrote a winner with this play.
Cast: Jenelle Jenee as Cecilia; Tim Burks as Edward, Lynn King as Felicity, Harvey Williams as “Grape” Theodore, Dennis Jackson as Raymond, Granville O’Neal as Walter P. Lampkin, Trevon Wainwright as Stephen Wayne Williams, and Kimberly Griddine as Sandra Clarice Richardson. Creative staff: Jacqueline Gafford, artistic director; Jacqueline Gafford, director; Frances E. Farah, stage manager; Vickie Little, program and poster design; Sherri Roulette-Mosley, Paula Zaire, Vickie Little; Warren Deckert, set construction.
Tags: Just Off Broadway, “Grape’s Vine”, comedy, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Theater