Howard L. Craft's domestic drama features some of the local playwright's most vivid writing yet. In Trevor Johnson's rock-ribbed performance, Percy Nelson's contrary repartee with fellow 'Nam veteran Uncle Bone (Gil Faison) and Percy's adult daughter and son, Chloe and Junior (Lakeisha Coffey and comedian Amadia Perez), crackles with an authenticity that's simultaneously old-school Southern and streetwise.
But the play's second appearance on local stages still hasn't solved some of the difficulties of a March 2017 workshop production. Director Joseph Megel isn't known for poor casting, but Perez is the second actor not to convince us in the role of a young Durham bike cop about to snap. Coincidence? The result of a too-small audition pool? Is there an element of Junior's character that Megel hasn't grasped, a deeper issue in Craft's script, or a combination?
I have no easy answer—not when Junior's arguments with Chloe seem underfunded until one of several second-act revelations explains, probably too late, one source of their division. Craft knows this neighborhood and these characters; he knows the fears and resentments that slowly undermine these familial relationships; he's clearly informed about dementia's gradual erosion of memory. Most of the dilemmas here are staged convincingly and with respect. The illicit joys of two old-timers are all the sharper because we know how temporary they are.
There is an unintended meta element at play. As Craft reminds us that the mundane is revealed as miraculous only when it's departing, we know that Manbites Dog Theater itself is leaving us after three more productions. Savor those miracles while you can.