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Strange Journey of 'Ritual' Lacks Sense of Coherence

THEATER REVIEW

November 06, 1996|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Abdul died in 1979 but his spirit lingers on. His friend, a struggling writer named Naeem (Bingwa), attempts to figure out why Abdul shot his wife and killed himself those many years ago. Or, more spiritually speaking, Naeem believes Abdul's soul is stuck on its journey and he wants to help free it.

In "Ritual of a Bop Solo," Naeem is a stand-in for author Tarabu Betserai Kirkland, who wrote the play both to memorialize and figure out a real-life friend who died under similar circumstances. Though his motivations for writing the play may be noble, Kirkland has not made Abdul's strange journey either completely coherent or moving. "Ritual," a co-production of the Black Theatre Artists Workshop and Glaxa Studios, is currently at Glaxa in Silver Lake.

The play offers two Abduls: the one his friends describe and the one the audience sees. When an excited Abdul gives away a large sum of money or a musical instrument to various browsers in his bookshop, the audience may recognize the manic swing in a manic-depressive cycle. His friends see only generosity.

Kirkland struggles to offer a well-rounded portrait of a man he clearly admires and may also feel let down by. But he never confronts the fact that Abdul is an attempted murderer, having shot his wife twice in the head (she survives). A chorus of friends (Ismael "East" Carlo, Esther Scott and Cheryl Carter) resent the wife, Cathy (Adelaide Miller), and see the marriage as a factor in Abdul's suicide. But no one, not even Cathy, seems to blame him for shooting her.

Joel Talbert plays Abdul as a character in need of help, a man shaky and lost when not overconfident, which helps to add a little depth to the portrait. Bingwa plays Naeem with an agitated innocence that is also effective.

Shabaka Barry Henley's direction tries to underline the play's poetry but instead accents its pretension.

"Ritual" protests too much. One friend, Rico (Carlo), insists unconvincingly that "they" killed Abdul even if "they" didn't pull the trigger. Thankfully, Kirkland doesn't offer this non-reason as the only explanation for Abdul's suicide, but the ones he does offer are equally vague.

* "Ritual of a Bop Solo," Glaxa Studios, 3707 Sunset Blvd., Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 8. $13. (213) 663-5295. Running time: 2 hours.

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