BOWIE – It was my pleasure to see “No Time,” a stage play by Gill and Pamela Nelson, on July 22, at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts.
Mr. Nelson – a native of Washington, D.C. – describes the play as examining how a middle-class family living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., deals with one of the hardest challenges any family could face: the death of a son through a police shooting.
“We try to write about subjects that most people can relate to,” Mr. Nelson said. “This story is about family, and every time you cut on the television, there is something about family.”
“No Time” plays out as a series of vignettes which show the universal struggles of families and personal relationships through setbacks, misunderstandings, bonding, and love. The play, which starts out a bit like a TV sitcom and has great humor, soon turns serious. The show gets its name mainly from a dilemma which presents itself to the father, Big Kenny, portrayed by Mr. Nelson.
Big Kenny is a responsible father and husband but suddenly realizes his work has left him little time to appreciate his family. As was stated directly at the end of the play, the theme is the importance of time in one’s life. This drama hits home about how time away from loved ones is not only missing out on an important aspect in life, but it can also lead to unexpected guilt, regret, and self-blame when loved ones are no longer in our lives.
The play also challenges us to think about how we approach loss and death. Should we celebrate a loved one’s life, or mourn in grief and sadness? Should we respond with anger, or with prayer, or with music? The play’s answer is that all of these are legitimate reactions – in fact, the totality of the human response to death is found in all.
“No Time” does not provide the audience with easy answers. The shooting of the son by a police officer is viewed through two lenses: injustice against African Americans, but also fate and circumstance beyond human control: The son, Lil Kenny, was carrying a fake gun as a prop from his school play as he was leaving the school. Big Kenny comes to accept that such a police reaction in our era of school shootings might well be a case of tragic misunderstanding.
Big Kenny’s journey from anger to forgiveness is an essential section of the play. The play brings out that forgiveness is crucial not only in respect to getting along with one another, or only because of religious obligation, but also because “in forgiving, you are not doing it for the other person. You are doing it for yourself.”
Yet the play does not end its analysis of forgiveness simply by recognizing the human emotional and psychological need to forgive; it also acknowledges the spiritual side, and by implication the connection of forgiveness to the play’s theme of time, as in Psalm 30:5 “For the (Lord’s) anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
The music throughout is superb, ranging from atmospheric jazz to spirited gospel. Sets of tables, chairs, and sofas establish the household as warm and family-friendly, and excellent use of backlighting creates mood effectively: family scenes in which people are getting along well are brightened with purple, whereas red is used to highlight angry scenes.
A mention must also be made of the cast and direction. While musical and lighting effects are used, the staging is completely naturalistic; we feel as if we are watching events unfold at a next-door neighbor’s house, which makes both the comic and tragic aspects feel both intimate and real. The cast is uniformly excellent. Nelson compellingly plays Big Kenny, while Lil Kenny is portrayed with both sympathy and energy by Mourice Olden. Pamela Nelson, the show’s other co-author, movingly portrays Lil Kenny’s biological mother. Darryl Bradley and Faheem Saadiq Abdus-Salaam perform the roles of Larry and Jimmy respectively with humor, force, and conviction.
“No Time” jolts the audience from laughter to tears and back again, at times making one want to laugh and cry at the same time. Its striking juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy, combined with outstanding performances by the cast, makes for a breath-taking show. While I would love to recommend this show to audiences, it appears that the single showing took place on July 22. However, should further performances be scheduled, I highly recommend this moving and well-performed play.