Heart of dimness

Theatre Quorum neverquite plunges into thedepths of Black

Theatre Quorum's production of Black benefits enormously from Mark Hankla, who does the most he can with a role that's split down the middle between agitator and spurned lover; occasionally, he even manages to blur the line between the two. We know far less about Lew than about the other characters, but Guinn Powell manages a crisp portrait of what might be termed, in current political parlance, a "black conservative," and therefore helps set up the stakes for a superficially ideological fight between himself and Hankla. Lyn Montgomery is the most problematic as Debra; her soft, twangy delivery doesn't come across nearly as seriously as it should during the most heated moments, though she does register the right idolatrous note when basking in the shadow of Powell.

Oh, yeah, and did I mention someone pulls a gun in Black? There are trickier and more satisfying ways that conflict could be elevated to crisis in this dinner party of suddenly revealed resentments, but Joyce Carol Oates doesn't spend the time to pursue them. Indeed, you can't help but feel that the creator--so infamous and usually skillful as she is at chipping her way through the thin frozen ravine between life and death--exits this firearm standoff far happier than any of her creations.

Black runs through September 12. Call (972) 216-8131.

It's true that Dallas stage and screen favorite Connie Nelson has already been in New York for most of the last year, doing TV work (a supporting role in "Law and Order") and getting roles in regional theater (Cincinnati and Pittsburgh). The last metroplex stage role she had was in an early 1997 Casa Manana musical, Grossinger's, bound for Broadway but hobbled and dead way before it arrived. Still, as Nelson packs boxes in her house near the M streets to relocate for real to New York, Banter can't help but take up a few minutes of her time for a farewell.

"I first moved to New York in 1980," Nelson says with a laugh, "and I was so green. I had something like two shows under my belt and an Equity card when I got off the plane. I didn't get a lot of work, but I did go to brunch a lot. I simply wasn't ready for the environment."

She returned to Dallas in 1986, and from then till last year, has solidified her regional reputation with diverse, sincere, smooth-as-buttermilk performances at Theatre Three ("my home"), Dallas Theater Center, Casa Manana, Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, and smaller venues. Nelson had been considering another go at New York, and when she flew there for last year's premiere of Gretchen and Julia Dyer's acclaimed indie gem Late Bloomers, in which she co-starred with Dee Hennigan, her determination began to gather.

"Late Bloomers opened doors for me, but agents I talked to said they would've considered me without it because of my regional work," she says. "Right now, I'm being submitted for work on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in films, commercials, and TV work. I'll still do regional, but at this point, it's got to be a lead, or at least a really good role, to make it worth my while to travel. I'm making a commitment to New York."

It's a daring leap into a competitive industry at a time when most people in their lives start thinking about security. Or is it that time? Nelson raises the issue of age before I do, and admits her liberal tendencies have been compromised by what she confesses is "an agist, sexist industry." She at first refuses to disclose her age, then quips, "I'm on the dim, mysterious other side of my '30s." Then she admits she's quoting Clifford Odets.

"I'm a feminist, and if I wasn't in the industry I'd be shouting my age from the rooftops," Nelson admits. "But you really have to be careful. And I hate that. But sometimes, of course, it gets ridiculous. I know actresses who're close to 50 who claim they're 35. You look at them and say, 'Yeah, right.'

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