THEATER REVIEW: “Artney Jackson” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
Photograph by Carolyn Brown
Playwright James Anthony Tyler’s work has been performed in several off-Broadway and regional theaters including the Berkshire Playwrights Lab in Great Barrington, whose Some Old Black Man by Tyler transferred to New York this past season to very good reviews. Williamstown Theatre Festival is currently producing the world premiere of his Artney Jackson, a beautifully constructed and poignant play.
Through a work week in the break room of a cable TV company in Las Vegas, we watch six lives interact through laughter and pain. Artney (Ray Anthony Thomas) is the most experienced member of the retention team that tries to mollify disgruntled customers and then to extend their contracts. The team consists of five other members including his son A.J. (Michael Braugher), a 30-year-old schizophrenic who still lives with his father; he is struggling to gain his independence by moving out. Artney, who promised his wife on her deathbed that he would always take care of their son, is recalcitrant due to his fear that A.J. will not take his medications.
Artney’s confidante Jackie Zinner (Portia) has an unknown illness she is afraid to pursue because of the distinct possibility it will cost her her job, something she cannot afford. Zaahir Baldwin (Christopher Livingston), known as “Z,” is a Morehouse College graduate living with his parents but is in this entry level job to help repay his loans and to start on a master’s degree. His best friend at the job, Perkins Howard (Joshua Boone), is a high school graduate who has been living on his own since he was 15 and is proud of the life he has made for himself. The team leader Rhonda Simpson (Alfie Fuller) is about to retire.