by Claire Moodey · June 20, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #122 Claire Moodey comments on The Taste Of It at Theatre 54
John Adam's new play The Taste of It is a reflection on a young romance between two driven artists in Boston in 1973. Christopher Kriz's sound design and Kathryn Kawecki's thorough costuming situated us immediately in the early 1970s. I personally craved a stronger engagement in the text with the backdrop of the race riots in Boston. Nevertheless, Alex Levy's clear direction and the strong work of the cast placed the questions at the heart of this play in the fore.
We are guided through this journey from the perspective of Sheila (Jean Tafler) years later. As she points out, Sheila is older now and living in New York going through boxes in her storage unit when she finds a box with all her memories of her relationship with Ross (Landon G. Woodson), a talented dancer attending university with young Sheila (Briana Pozner). Their relationship begins professionally as Sheila prepares for her thesis production of Emperor Jones. A determined young director, she breaks into Ross's dance studio and begs him to perform in her piece. Sheila's determination and unusual pitch of the project eventually wins Ross over. They work intensely together on the piece with great success until Sheila's professor demands that more of the language of the play be included. Ross refuses to perform the text and abandons the project two weeks before production. Two weeks after the show, Ross calls Sheila up and invites himself over for dinner. The two drink and talk together and a romantic relationship is borne.
Adams' text pulls us through tough power struggles; race, gender, and class are all called into question through this young couple's struggle to balance love and work, artistic competition between lovers, sharing space, and scraping by on change. While Adams steers the narrative from the perspective of an older, perhaps wiser Sheila, as a young woman in the audience I felt acutely aware of the male perspective shaping the telling. I wondered if the boundaries Ross overstepped balanced out against the privilege Sheila enjoyed as a middle class white person. I wondered if I would feel the play was shaped by a white perspective were I a person of color. While I'm not sure about that, I was sure the play had effectively probed the whole house as immediately after the curtain call the young woman of color sitting near me remarked to her friend, “He was beating on her ass and she was trying to help him!”
The balance of power in this piece is constantly being tipped one way or another ever so slightly. Adams and Levy manage to address these big, difficult, delicate questions with the help of a winning cast. Despite the problems in their relationship, I still found myself endeared to Sheila and Ross as Pozner, Tafler and Woodson brought them to life. Pozner, who I studied acting with in 2006, charmed as the young Sheila with realistic idiosyncrasies and Woodson's energetic, graceful performance earned his character's reputation. Exploring the see-saw of power through their intimate relationship allowed a personal connection with the themes in the work and time to reflect upon my own proximity to these questions while watching the evolution of Sheila and Ross's romance. An effective piece of personal theater. Ballybeg's production of the world premiere of The Taste of It continues through June 29th at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios.