Monday, April 06, 2009


Photos courtesy of the Black Rep Secret Language speaks love & character
By Ma’at Atkins

After seeing NYC- based playwright Cori Thomas’ My Secret Language of Wishes, it was evident that The St. Louis Black Repertory Company had taken a long overdue risk expressing taboo subjects on stage (homosexuality, interracial adoption, and the physically challenged), the story line was topical (e.g. super pop star Madonna capturing headlines on her being denied custody from the Malawian government of a Malawian toddler) and this was one of the best plays put on by the Black Rep in years.

Directed by Black Rep and producing Director Ron Himes, Secret Language is For Colored Girls Who Committed Suicide meets ”Women of Brewster Place meets The L Word. Set in modern times, Secret Language tells the story of a white caretaker Dakota (played by Black Rep newcomer Alex Miller) and her custody battle to adopt physically disabled teen Rose (played superbly by newcomer Vanika Spencer) over a rich black real estate broker Brenda (played by “A Song for Coretta’s Cathy Simpson). The drama unfolds when no-holds barred black attorney Jo (played nicely by Black rep vet/SIUE theater instructor Kathi Bentley) who takes Dakota’s case and in turn, causes her to reflect on her own private “secret" challenges.

Newcomer Vanika Spencer shines in her Black Rep debut as the physically-challenegd teen, Rose.
The scenes are transitioned mostly by Bentley’s character that moves from one scene (in her lawyer’s office) and physically walks into another scene (her home) and so forth. It takes a moment to get accustomed to this stage device, but it helps move the 2 1/2 hour play along.

Newcomer Alex Miller (left) and Spencer in a scene.

Secret Language’s strong point is its complex characters and the dimensions of them especially Spencer's and Bentley’s. Spencer is believable in her role as the physically challenged yet mentally astute Rose. It takes a moment to get comfortable with her character’s involuntary shaking from cerebral palsy but after that, one sees the likeability of her character. Through soliloquies, it is discovered of the secret wish of Spencer’s character which is done excellently (and told without her cerebral palsy manner) in a quiet yet winsome way. Jo’s soliloquies are told as though the audience is the jury as she tells the story of the case at hand.

Veteran actress Kathi Bentley(left) plays the tough-as-nails lawyer Jo with secrets of her own.

But the meat of the story is its subplot of lawyer Jo and her battle with her closeted homosexuality and the issues she has with her masochistic live-in former college roommate girlfriend, Dominican born Cecelia (played passionately by Thyais Walsh), mainly their spats of having a child (The lesbianism moments are not overt but quite provocative).

Bentley and actress Thyais Walsh in an initimate scene.

There are also nice analogies to water, classical music and female “periods’ that help to bring the feminine touches (as told through Walsh's back story soliloquy) to the play. It is also refreshing that each of the main character’s reasons for their actions (especially Spencer’s and Walsh’s) is explained. Plus, the surprise factor is realistic after the outcome of the custody battle especially after it is very well predicted before the end of Act I of why Simpson’s character’s wanted to adopt Rose.

However, there are some drawbacks. The play is set in New York City and none of the characters have a Nuyorican or New York based accent (even Walsh's character whose Dominican doesn’t even have that accent). Also, when the play speeds to two- years later, the characters have on the same outfits and the only change is Jo’s supposed baby bump.

"A Song for Coretta" actress Cathy Simpson plays Brenda the rich real estate broker who battles to adopt Rose.

Secret Language speaks volumes about love and from the words of Rose in one of her solo moments. “one's capacity to love.” It also helps to break the stereotype of physically challenged individuals which shows that they have dreams and feelings even if they don't appear “normal” to society. If you are open minded to the taboo subjects of lesbianism and see pass that, this play is definitely a must see to suspend yourself in what it means to have life.

thru - April 19, 2009
(Grandel Theatre)
3610 Grandel Square St. Louis
Showtimes are Wed and Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m. Sat 3p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Ticket Info:(314) 534-3807 or

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