Elmina's Kitchen by Kwame Kwei-Armah/directed by Gregg T. Daniel/LDTE at Lost Studio, LA/until September 2
Recreating the racial turmoil that took place in the London Borough of Hackney in 2002/2003, Elmina's Kitchen also presents the disintegration of the family unit as seen through the eyes of three generations of West Indian men. So, the turmoil is within as well as all around these victims, making for a rather depressing picture. But the gritty reality is mixed with just enough voodoo/black magic and unique cultural humor to make for a very absorbing and enjoyable evening of theatre as presented by the Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble (LDTE) at the Lost Studio. British playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah has constructed the play as part of a trilogy and Elmina's Kitchen shows the struggles of the lower working class trapped by prejudice, and gang/drug wars within the Black ghetto. It's blacks against blacks as Deli (Terrell Tilford) desperately searches for a way to save his teenage son whilst attempting to maintain the tiniest shred of dignity. Kwei-Armah's genuine portrait of this culture and its universal themes engages, as does Terrell as he leads a superb cast under the skilled direction of Gregg T. Daniel through September 2.
Digger (Noel Arthur) is the scum - a gang member euphemistically called protection - who hangs around Deli's shabby restaurant, giving it an even worse reputation than it already has. Deli's brother has just been killed and so Deli's estranged father Clifton ( Basil Wallace) shows up on the doorstep, with the funeral as an excuse, as he is really looking for a place to stay. Deli has 19 year-old Ashley (Aaron Jennings) to care for, so Clifton's visit is an intrusion. Deli barely tolerates Clifton, who had abandoned Elmina. Deli's mother, when Deli was a boy. Anastasia (Tracey A. Leigh) takes a job as waitress and falls for Deli, but is influenced by ulterior motives. It seems that the brother had left Deli some money, and for that reason, both Anastasia and Clifton want to stick around. One gets wise to the other and verbally blackmails that person to leave, but neither profit from the outcome. Deli has other plans to save himself and Ashley from the violence of the hood. Baygee (Leon Morenzie), a black market salesman/con artist, is a peculiar character with a very thick accent, who sings and provides moments of comic relief with his stories of days gone by. He is also the spirit at the beginning and end of the play who sets its tone of West Indian black magic.
The entire ensemble is superb under Daniel's conscientious direction. Tilford is fiercely intense in his portrayal of the son who doesn't know how to deal properly with his father or his son. Wallace is slick and cunning as Clifton, and Leigh, the only female, makes the enigmatic Anastasia totally likeable. Arthur as the streetwise Digger is tough and subtly comical; Jennings brings the appropriate angst and confusion to Ashley. Morenzie has a field day with the vaudevillian type-nature of Baygee. Gary Lee Reed has done a fine job in executing an authentic set design of the run-down joint.
Overall, Elmina's Kitchen is a culturally flavorful experience and riveting entertainment, with its eclectic blend of reality/fantasy. Its best dramatic moments come in the father/son confrontations... and the wonderful scene where Deli seduces Anastasia with his special West Indie chicken sandwich. It's a warm and inviting moment, some quiet before the storm! A fine effort for LDTE!