by John Biguenet
Directed by Kate Alexander
Florida Studio Theatre's Keating Mainstage
1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, 941-366-9000
April 7 through May 29, 2010

 Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker


The National New Play Network unites non-profit theatres in developing and producing new plays, each of which receives a "rolling world premiere" in at least three different venues. The aim is to perfect the work and sustain it so that it doesn't die after a single debut by a sole creative team before just one kind of audience.  Shotgun is a play that, as presented by Florida Studio Theatre, justifies the NNPN. It also fulfills FST's aims to "provide audiences with challenging  contemporary drama" and to develop theatre in accord with our "living, evolving, and dynamically changing world."  A small shotgun New Orleans duplex (realistically designed by Bob Phillips) puts its owner Mattie (magnetic Maya Lynne Robinson) into a clash four months after Katrina among survivors still suffering from its effects. Fortunately, Mattie's house is in an area untouched directly by the storm. Unfortunately, she can't let her father Dexter (Robert Kya-Hill, of impressive voice), whose house in the "Lower 9th" is no more, use the adjacent apartment. Because she has to rent it out to make money for her mortgage,  he lives with her. He constantly grouses about sleeping on a couch.
When white carpenter Beau (handsome, sturdy, sad William  Peden) and his high school senior son Eugene (Tom Patterson, tense) respond to Mattie's rental sign,  the stage is set for racial  tensions that add to other resentments. Not only does Dexter envy Beau having work and thus the money for the apartment, but he feels he and Mattie should stick to their "own kind". Letting whites into the neighborhood could be dangerous as it is unfitting. Maybe the danger will even come from Mattie's two-decades-ago boyfriend Willy (Freddie Bennett, cheesy but changeable  as that name he adopted), who's been profiteering yet wants to get back in her long lost (with good reason) favor.  Further resentments get piled on Beau from his son. Eugene  blames him for letting his mother drown and now removing him from friends and  success on his school sports team. Despite some chance to repair their old home, as Dexter points out to them, "Nothing's the same as it was before the flood."
With all of Beau's life's complications, Mattie's entrance into it had seemed a blessing at first.  Then came weighty considerations to rock their romance.  Will it stay on course?  Director Kate Alexander  sustains suspense but without subordinating characterization to plot. Her casting is as impeccable as the ways she assures that the characters interact. The actors do full justice to the authentic traits and dialogue author Biguenet  has created.  His is an important play about an important subject. I believe  an interesting companion on a double bill could be Elizabeth Gregory Wilder's  The Furniture of Home  that explores the effect of Katrina on Mississippi Coast survivors. But Biguenet is also creating a flood-related trilogy which could be presented in tandem with Shotgun central.
Robert Perry's lighting and Melissa Schlachtmeyer's costumes are commendable.  Kelli Karen effectively stage manages the 2 hour show. There is a 15 minute intermission.

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