- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

The three main characters in playwright William Hanley’s compelling 1964 drama “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground” are on the lam.

Mr. Glas (Stan Weiman), the owner of a musty old candy store in Brooklyn, is hiding from his past — both his version of it and what really happened. Nice Jewish coed Rosie (Kathleen Coons) is fleeing her middle-class upbringing and a predicament that has her roaming the mean streets — the “killing ground” of the title — lost, lonely and hungry. And Randall (Brandon J. Price), a hipster-talking young black man with a genius I.Q., is on the run from the law and his schizoid sense of self.

All three wind up in Mr. Glas’ store late one night and by evening’s end, no one gets out alive. Not literally, mind you, but by dawn the three have killed the personas that shield them and cut them off from an authentic life. The play doesn’t end on a falsely optimistic note, but on a deeply humanistic one as the characters learn there is “something better” out there other than lives built on secrets and lies.

High marks go to Everyman Theatre for unearthing the rarely produced “Slow Dance” (Center Stage did it in 1970), the meaty monologues from which (and there are plenty) have been the staples of actors’ auditions for nearly four decades.

Director Jennifer L. Nelson exhibits a compassion and talent for actors, which runs through the production She choreographs the play as if it were a jazz-fueled dance piece — giving each actor a rhythm and motif that weaves in and out of the action with muscular motion.

Randall, played with nervy theatricality by Mr. Price, possesses the jangled, raw cadences of a beatnik hep-cat: percussive, urgent and non-stop. Cool lingo such as “kooky,” “daddy” and “crazy” are staccato counterpoints to his rococo diatribes on medieval monks, the Medici family and other intellectual ephemera.

Contrast Randall’s hopped-up, manic jag to the slow, deliberate pace of Mr. Glas. As portrayed with measured skill by Mr. Weiman, Mr. Glas moves as if sprinkled with the same dust drifting on his wooden shelves and boxes of penny candy.

He’s a tired old man hiding a shameful secret, and every movement of his body seems to beg for judgment; the harsher the better. Serving as a buffer between these two extreme personalities is Rosie, played by Kathleen Coons with such snap-brim intelligence and obstinate goodness that she’s a ray of bitter sunshine from the moment she arrives on stage.

Rosie is a subtler — and thus, trickier — character. She is not as showy as Randall or as forlornly tragic as Mr. Glas. She’s someone familiar, brutally familiar — a young woman called homely by her family and who’s now bought into the statement. She has no idea she’s a “splendid chick,” as Randall puts it.

The play is clearly an actor’s piece, and the trio dives in with relish. Yet there is a sense of too much of a good thing, since the drama feels overlong and padded, especially in the third-act coda, a mock trial that goes over the material we’ve already seen.

And Randall’s flights of language, so wild and startling in the beginning, overstay their welcome by the end as he begins to become a bit of a windbag and a bore.

“Slow Dance,” written in 1964, is informed both by the civil rights movement and the effects of World War II and the Holocaust. While some of the play’s topical political and social issues may not be as provocative as they were when it first debuted, its message endures: You can avoid everything but yourself.

***

WHAT: “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground” by William Hanley

WHERE: Everyman Theatre, 1727 North Charles St., Baltimore

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m.

Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through April 18.

TICKETS: $18 to $30

PHONE: 410/752-2208

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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