True Blue 

The Hattiloo Theatre's lively production of Spunk closes this weekend with a final matinee performance on Sunday, May 11th.

George C. Wolfe's lyrical adaptation of three Zora Neal Hurston short stories is engaging but filled with troublesome clichés. In the show's opening moments, for example, a slender mocha-skinned man in the dark suit-and-hat uniform of a Chicago bluesman, picks variations on a single chord while Blues Speak Woman, his unsurprisingly sassy female counterpart, sings a song titled "How Do You Git to the Git?"

"With some blues 'n' some grit, some pain, some spit," Blues Speak Woman wails. "And some SPUNK."

Hurston was a controversial figure during the Harlem Renaissance, and some reasons for the controversy are apparent in Spunk. Unlike many of the liberal, occasionally radical African-American intellectuals at the center of this cultural moment, she was anti-integration, anti-New Deal, and her characters could shuck and jive like they'd been imported from a black-face minstrel show. True to form, Spunk's second act is a clown show featuring a pair of dim, slang-mouthed pimps sparring over a sexy female mark.

The bothersome baggy-pants comedy is book-ended with moving tales of rural tragedy and domestic splendor, reminding us that, for all of her perceived faults, Hurston was a world-class storyteller able to conjure up images of American life that won't go away quickly after the actors take their bows.

Spunk brings the Hattiloo Theatre's auspicious second season to a strong close. It was preceded by a nearly perfect interpretation of Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog and an intimate, innovative production of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

"Spunk" at Hattiloo Theatre through Sunday, May 11th. $12-$15. For ticket information, call 525-0009. Seating is limited.

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