Presented by and at Signature Theatre Company, 555 W. 42 St., NYC, Feb. 25-March 25.
The three short solo plays that make up "Urban Zulu Mambo" present a trio of vastly different African-American women and the varying voices of their authors. Playwright-actress Regina Taylor zestfully embodies them all, in addition to writing the title poem which serves as a transition piece between the vignettes. This Signature Theatre production is conceived as a tribute to Adrienne Kennedy, a previous Signature playwright-in-residence, and a pioneer black female dramatist.
Suzan-Lori Parks' "Talking to Jupiter" starts the evening—and is the strongest segment. The main character is Hettie, a homeless woman who refers to herself in the third person and has a talking German shepherd named Jupiter for a protector and constant companion. This bizarre animal talent is somehow made plausible by Parks' compassionate writing and Taylor's non-condescending performance.
"Liliane" is Ntozake Shange's poetic meditation on an artist's fascination with a beautiful man with dreadlocks. The joy and intoxication of physical attraction and the transcendent power of art are feelingly portrayed.
In the third piece, "Safe Box," Kia Corthron indulges in her penchant for quoting statistical data. Rame is a victim of breast and ovarian cancer who is burning all of her diaries on New Year's Eve 1999. She wants to start the new millennium fresh. But she spends so much time spewing percentages of carcinogens and poison gases in the atmosphere, the monologue sounds like a report from the Environmental Protection Agency. The actress manages to overcome this flaw and make us care about Rame.
Henry Godinez's direction gives us enough different notes to make for a vibrant 90 minutes. The set by G.W. Mercier is versatile, as are Brenda Rousseau's costumes and Jane Cox's lighting. Unfortunately, Robert Kaplowitz's fuzzy sound design rendered transitional voice-overs almost unintelligible.