“The Session”: has potential, but needs some tweaking

Photo Credit // Lindsay Adams From left to right: Vanessa Harper as Beth, Alexandria Washington as Reatha, Marilyn Lynch as Ms. Hunter, and Nicole Santorella as Cynthia.

Lindsay Adams

“The Session”, a play by new Kansas City theatre group, MeltingPot KC is extremely ambitious, tackling difficult issues of race and gender while also trying to tell five different women’s stories, mostly through monologues. Each act of the play was preceded by spoken word artists Mz Angela Roux and Cheri Woods, who nearly overshadowed the theatrical piece with their distinctive voices.

The show is tells of five women who are forced to go to a court-ordered anger management session. Ms. Hunter leads the proceedings and is fought at every turn by the other four women who do not want to be there at all. Reatha is aggressive and overcompensating. Mrs. Davis seems to be the most together person in the room, but is stunted by bitterness. Cynthia, a Hispanic woman, is hindered by a language barrier. Beth is self-loathing. The five women learn more about themselves and each other than they ever expected in a two-hour session.

The beginning of the show was a bit slow to start, but once the characters were introduced and started to interact the pace picked up. The differences between the women lead to many interesting interactions and set up many possibilities. Unfortunately many were not realized.

The difficulty in setting a show in an anger management session is the certainty of more banal moments. There is a mandatory meet and greet session with the explanation of each woman’s presence, which is not particularly suited to the dramatic. The main way the audience gets to know the characters is through long monologues explaining how they got there. This can make the play overtly expository and break the rhythm of the show.

Writing characters from so many varied backgrounds is a huge challenge. They were all interesting conceptually, but the executions of the different characters were hit-or-miss. Unfortunately several of the characters appear as a personification of an issue rather than a person who has had to deal with a larger political or social issue. This was particularly the case in the character of Cynthia. Her monologue was not the story of a person, but the stereotypical story of a people. The issue was not made personal to her, but was generalized and vague, which made it hard to understand the depth of the character..

The goal of the show is quite clear: to present five characters who seem easy to understand on the surface while trying to show the unexpected layers underneath. Some of them still remained two-dimensional, however, at the end of the show. Only two of the characters gave specific experiences in their lives when telling their own story. One character, Beth, whose story was unique and authentic explains, “Trailer trash was a step up for us.” She had a fantastic monologue with an exceedingly detailed backstory which made the viewer wish each character had been as fleshed out. There were a few other fantastic moments in the dialogue. After one character complains about being shoved to the back of the line all her life, another points out, “Sounds like you’re taking yourself to the back of the line.” The twist at the end of the play is clever, but the audience realizes it long before the characters.

The way the set was positioned accentuated some interesting angles. The lighting was understated and it focused on each character as they told their personal story while the rest of the stage was dimmed. This effect did effectively draw attention, but the transition out of the light was a bit distracting. The costumes did a good job of delineating the characters, but at times they were exaggerated.

The ensemble cast of the show was good. They worked well together and in many cases elevated the material. Nicolle Santorella, especially, was absolutely fantastic while playing the weakest written of the characters. Her emotion and expression made her relatable and likable. Lynn King was incredibly focused and strong in her portrayal. Marilyn Lynch was delightful as a character with a lot of comedic but dramatic moments as well. Vanessa Harper and Alexandria Washington rounded out the cast with nuanced portrayals of characters who could easily have been turned into cardboard cutouts instead of people.
A lot of the issues, especially when it comes to racial stereotyping and the tensions between different minorities, were interestingly told. These issues are not ones that are commonly dealt with, and bringing them to light in the show is admirable and courageous. The play has extraordinary potential, but needs some reworking.

“The Session” runs through Sept. 8 at the Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central. More information can be found at http://www.kcmeltingpot.com/