Theater: Meetings

Meetings, Play by Mustapha Matura. Directed by Gerald Gutierrez. "Meetings," at the Marymount Manhattan Theater, begins as an affable comedy about affluence and upward mobility, West Indian style. It ends on a tragic note after a highly prosperous black couple discover that differences over fundamental values and priorities have driven them apart.

Trinidad-born playwright Mustapha Matura has set his play in a gleaming kitchen-dinette right out of the pages of a glossy woman's magazine. The "Meetings" of the title refer to the casual encounters between husband Hugh (Carl Lumbly) and wife Jean (Michele Shay), to the business conferences that fill their long days, and to Hugh's gradually intensifying relationship with an elderly mango seller.

The mango seller dispatches her granddaughter Elsa (Seret Scott) to cook for the couple and particularly to prepare Hugh the country-style menus spurned by the careerist Jean. While the wife suspects the possible romantic consequences of all this good home cooking, Hugh is in fact becoming deeply concerned over the lives and welfare of the poor back-country people with whom his new associations are brining him into contact. Participation in a night-long superstitious folk ritual changes him irrevocably.

Up to the point of its melodramatic ending, "Meetings" presents a shrewd, often buoyantly comic view of the human reactions and interactions which cause radical changes in attitudes and relationships. As the catalytic figure in the situation, Miss Scott demonstrates how naivete and simple ingenuousness can unsettle the confidence of a driving sophisticate like Jean. Miss Shay, a superb comic actress, is equally capable of grasping the terror and despair of a bright young achiever who realizes too late the tragic consequences of her latest big-deal publicity campaign. Mr. Lumbly gives a similarly adroit and flexible performance as the young executive who perceives what his wife does not -- the shallowness and insubstantially of their materialism.

Whether one comprehends -- or accepts --kind of play that stirs and stimulates the spectator with the originality of its subject matter and the dramatic skill of its treatment. The world premier production staged by Gerald Gutierrez noticeably raises the standard of the Phoenix Theater's so far disappointing season. "Meetings" is admirably served by designers John Kasarda (scenery), Karen Miller (costumes), Spencer Mosse (lighting) and by the use of incidental calypso music.

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