“Beyond the Stratosphere” Insightful, Interesting and Illuminating
Ryan Echols Published: December 23th, 2016
“Beyond the Stratosphere” by La’Charles Purvey, directed by Callison Coburn and now playing at Oklahoma City Theatre Company, looks at five black men struggling to live with HIV/AIDS in 1992. It is a journey of suffering, confusion, frustration, and pain, but it all comes down to taking it one day at a time.
The story centers on Scotty Young, a PhD student running a support group for those with “the virus.” Including Young, there are five men who frequently utilize the group as a means of release, socialization, and advice. Each man tries to cope with his illness in his own way, but the struggles of January Watson, the play’s only HIV positive woman, draw the most attention. Playing both to the audience and the world of the play, Watson gives a deeper look inside the insidious reality so many individuals were, and are, forced to inhabit.
Amara Brady (January Watson) is mesmerizingly genuine, cut-throat, and fierce. She commands attention every second she sets foot on stage. Her journey is without a doubt a major focus of the production and left us wanting to see much more. Aptly reserved and constrained, Jerrod Mitchell plays Scotty Young. His manners are at times unnatural, but certainly justifiable. G’angelo Peterson plays the energetic and frenetic Rakeem “Mixtape Boy” Watson. Amusing to watch, Peterson’s humorous, though overt, moments’ off-script are continuously welcomed. Phillip Rideoutt II plays the expressive Drag Queen Reggie “Sunday” Morning. Rideoutt gives a forceful performance. While there may be more depths to reach, Rideoutt gives a solid performance. BC Randolph plays the ex-convict Duncan “Dunc” Pollard. Certainly rough around the edges, Dunc seemed to require the most internal conflict and Randolph rose to the occasion. The moment in which Pollard questions his fate, decrying the heavens absolutely highlights the production. Penny De Luca, played by Alicia Working, is a straight-laced, white, social worker and adds an interesting dynamic to the mix. Working comes across as both deeply caring and tightly wound – two characteristics that play well, though sometimes in opposition. Demetrius Little, played by Thonie Lee, believes that faith alone can heal him. As director Coburn indicated at the top of the show, Lee replaced Ron Marshall in this role at the last minute. While there were some moments that raised an eyebrow, Lee seemed to find his groove and served the part well.
While the acting was good and the show itself was impactful, other aspects of the production were lacking. Oftentimes actors would be centered on points completely leaving their faces in the dark – a very stark, and noticeable, contrast. Sound design was appropriate, and the scenic elements were delightfully inventive and illuminating, but the transitions between scenes need work. For a play so well done, slamming on the breaks between every sequence made the show feel much less like a play and more like a series of vignettes.
This powerful, meaningful production speaks to the nature of pain, struggle, emotion, and how those rejected by society continue to live among their peers. The performances and writing are solid; if you have a spare evening, be sure not to miss this show. “Beyond the Stratosphere,” playing now at the Oklahoma Civic Center City Space, has performances December 29th and 30th at 8pm. Tickets can be found online at okctc.org or by calling the box office at: 405-297-2264.