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Mixed Bag of Tricks 

What's good about In Walks Ed -- and there's a lot that's good about it -- pretty much defies explanation. For example, at one point the "good" bad guy Ed, a super-cool but chivalrous hit man, is holding a gun on Sky (his former mentor in crime) and Bennie the Jet (the "bad" bad guy who was Ed's former partner and now become top dog in "Chocolate City").

"Dance!" snaps Ed (reverting in his thirst for revenge to a shtick from the old Hopalong Cassidy Westerns).

Bennie and Sky refuse. Ed fires. They dance. Ed starts calling out other dances: "The Funky Chicken," "The Monkey." They hesitate. Then, they dance. From the first halfhearted, terrified, fatalistic gesture, the dancing duo is hilarious. And as they continue, they just get funnier. Why? I don't know exactly. I guess you have to be there.

Some of the magic can be explained. For one thing, Don Guillory, who has graced many serious roles, steps out in a new direction as Bennie the Jet, a fey gangsta -- florid, sadistic and as comically inept as one of the Three Stooges. It's a risky performance, and it works. Meanwhile, Sky is played by old pro Lance Nichols with the low-ball economy of hard-earned confidence. Together -- as they soldier their way through an enforced medley of pop choreography -- they lay 'em in the aisles.

While this particular moment was my favorite, there are many others that offer a similar loopy pleasure -- as when Pete (Nick Lopez), a young Puerto Rican drug dealer who hopes to retire from crime by opening his own bodega, announces in non sequitur disgust: "The breakup of AT&T was the worst thing that ever happened in this country!" Or, when -- during a moment of high tension and drawn guns -- the entire group finds it cannot pony up a quarter for a phone call, despite the fact they've got an attache case with a million bucks inside.

Essentially, In Walks Ed purports to be a love story -- sort of a low-life, African-American version of The Great Gatsby. Ed (Tony Molina) left Chocolate City years ago and now has returned with the aforementioned attache case. He intends to give it, with no strings attached, to the girl he left behind, Darlene (Fahnlohnee Harris). He has never been able to forget her. And, when she struts in, a svelte temptress in a leopard-skin bodice (apparently painted on), a mini-skirt and high-heel boots, we can see why. But guess what? She's gone straight. She's become a cop! Not only that, she's become a ninja master. In the second act, Benny the Jet challenges Ed, who's got the drop on him, to put down the gun and fight like a man. Ed says Benny has to fight Darlene first. In an intricately staged, no-holds-barred tough-guy match, Darlene kicks his butt.

Kicking butt, waving pistols in people's faces, facing down the other guy in a Mexican standoff; plenty of that sort of thing goes down in Chocolate City. But, there's more to it. Honor, love, betrayal, redemption -- like giving away a million dollars to a woman who scorns you, like picking up a contract to kill your girlfriend in order to protect her (though it means you'll be a marked man).

This brings up the question of Keith Glover's script. Frankly, I didn't get it. First, let me confess I have never seen a blaxploitation movie. Not a one. And after all, suppose you had never seen Carmen Miranda and went to a spoof of south-of-the-border musicals from the 1940s. What would you make of the lady with all the fruit on her head? So, given that In Walks Ed is, to a large extent, a spoof of blaxploitation movies, my ignorance is certainly part of the problem. Nonetheless, it seems to me there is a deeper problem here. The play doesn't know what it wants to be. We get comic book-style cliches, serious heartfelt monologues, high-flown poetical interludes, jokes, shtick, tough-guy posturing, sentimentality -- the whole nine yards. Three of the nine yards, we could do without.

David Korin designed Sky's spiffy bar room, while Tony French came up with costumes that were spot-on in themselves and worked well against the blue tones of the set.

In Walks Ed is a mixed bag, but an enjoyable mixed bag. It's a tribute to the skills of director Ryan Rilette and his cast that we stay aboard through this stylish rollercoaster ride -- savoring the fun of it, and forgetting the implausible emotions and illogical situations as soon as they are past.

click to enlarge Ed (Tony Molina) tries to play it cool with ex-girlfriend Darlene (Fahnlohnee Harris) in Southern Rep's production of In Walks Ed.
  • Ed (Tony Molina) tries to play it cool with ex-girlfriend Darlene (Fahnlohnee Harris) in Southern Rep's production of In Walks Ed.
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