Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 10, 2010

Samuel J. and K.

Williamstown Theater Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 18, 2010
by Barbara Stroup

International adoptions by single parents – how well do they work? Multi-racial families – good or bad for the kids? These sociological questions go unanswered, but theatre-goers who see “Samuel J. and K.” will watch one compelling story unfold, and can draw their own conclusions about family of origin, adoption, sibling rivalry, jealousy, brotherly love, and the curse of the passage of time.

Williamstown is lucky to have both Justin Long and Owiso Odera in this two-character, well-written play by Mat Smart, who has a great ear for casual dialogue. The writing creates fully dimensional personalities from the start, even while the basketball is pounding the floor. Long and Odera are immediately likeable; they have expressive faces that show a wide range of emotions, both matching their words and transcending them - vulnerability, humor and a most human hunger for love. All this, and athletic bodies that can move a basketball!

This play never lags, the characters are never wooden, and the story line gives the playwright enough on which to hang the conflict that needs airing between the brothers.

Both named Samuel, “Moms” adopted K from Cameroon as a toddler. She is never seen, but her influence permeates the brothers’ relationship; the teasing mockery only shows their love for her. One Samuel is awkward with emotions and their expression. The other Samuel is expressive with his affection, but also plagued with an impulsivity that leads to the pivotal decision at the end of Act I. The brothers travel together, part abruptly, and reunite as men.

The stage is warmly lit; the set design allows for a basketball court, a Cameroon village and a cozy Illinois living room. The most intimate dialogue is blocked nearest the audience, bringing the theatre into the conversation. Overall, this is a production that continues to enhance the Festival’s reputation for quality theatre experiences.

Facing issues that could defeat the strongest relationship – Samuel J. and Samuel K. ultimately show themselves to be human. What more can one ask? Their journey is a pleasure to watch from beginning to end and theatre lovers must hope for more from Mat Smart’s pen.