Firepower' a Lesson in Binding Emotional Wounds

By Tanya Gazdik

From left; T.C. (Jonathan West), the gay son of George Montgomery (David Luther Glover) with Neil (Dan Johnson), T.C's longtime partner, who pushes T.C. to come out to his politically conservative father. The black sheep of the family, Eddie (William Bryson), has known his little brother is gay since they were kids and confronts Neil, warning him not to hurt his little brother – or else. Photo courtesy Detroit Rep.

Stories about brothers are as old as Cain and Abel. The relationship of the brothers who are featured in the Detroit Repertory Theatre's "Firepower" is nowhere near as contentious but every bit as complicated.
While big brother Eddie (William Bryson) and T.C. (Jonathan West) on the surface appear to be polar opposites, it turns out they have much in common. Each has secrets they have carried for decades and long to unload.
Written by Kermit Frazier and directed by Lynch Travis, the Detroit Repertory's production is the play's world premiere.
The show opens with T.C. and his partner, Neil Russell (Daniel Johnson), preparing for a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit T.C.'s father, the ailing patriarch George Montgomery (David Glover.) Neil is frustrated because T.C. won't commit to revealing to his family that he is gay and that Neil is his long-time boyfriend.
West expertly conveys the intense conflicts his character is struggling with. By finally coming out of the closet, which would be a relief and would definitely please Neil, T.C. worries about incurring the wrath of his conservative politician father and losing his standing as the "good son."
Eddie, on the other hand, already has incurred his father's wrath by choosing to be estranged from the family for decades, to the extent that he was unreachable after his mother's death the previous year. But the prodigal son has returned and along with reuniting with his family, he revives a romance with his high-school sweetheart Joanne Wells (Casaundra Freeman). The irony is that despite their chasm, Eddie, like his father, was a star football player. But his harsh and critical father is angry that he squandered his talents, washing out of the NFL. George's anger actually is much more deeply rooted even as he boasts of the "firepower" he possessed as a quarterback, but it's a convenient excuse for him to lash out and be hurtful to his long-suffering son.
Tying the subplots together is Liz Hall (Jennifer Cole), father George's much younger fiancee. The sons are surprisingly unconcerned about her motivations, maybe because having her in the picture means they don't have to expend as much energy taking care of their father, whose anger is rooted in part by denying his failing health. Although she is half George's age, Liz often is the voice of reason, smoothing out the wrinkles in their relationship.
The set, designed and constructed by Harry Wetzel, is simple and austere, consisting of white pillars as the backdrop while white marble-like cubes serve as chairs and tables. The classical Greek-theater is effective because it doesn't detract from the very complicated relationships and lengthy dialogue. Although it is set in 1989, the show just as easily could be set in the current day, other than an amusing reference to the yet-to-be-invented erectile dysfunction drugs. One of the props, a first-generation cordless phone that is as big as a shoebox, is right on the money.
Sound design is from Burr Huntington. Upbeat music bridges the scene changes and keeps the energy moving. But it often feels more like it's from the '70s than the late '80s. Sandra Glover's costume designs also appear to slightly predate 1989, with the women wearing blouses with puffed shoulders and wrap dresses. These miscues don't detract from the show since the focus is on relationships.
The political subplot is key. George is a first-term DC city councilman, trying to prove himself to the rest of the council and Mayor Marion Barry. His rambling, politically-themed speeches, mixed in with his and Liz's somewhat distracting recitations of the history of the city's mainly African-American Anacostia neighborhood, go on a bit longer than necessary as the audience awaits more interactions among the characters. But Frazier weaves politics into the story since it turns out that in order to win passage of a housing law, George likely must make some concessions that negatively impact the LGBTQ community and dial up the tension between him and his gay son T.C.
Actors still were working on dialogue and timing during the play's opening night, and there were minor gaffes which likely will be smoothed out in subsequent performances. "Firepower" has an enormous amount of dialogue; there aren't many pauses or periods of silence. But given the several complicated storylines that need to get wrapped up by the end, it's understandable.
Although the play has many humorous moments, it concludes somewhat abruptly on a solemn note and leaves the audience longing for a bit more. But real life isn't neat and tidy and doesn't get wrapped up in a box with a bow on top, so in a way this ending is perfectly appropriate.

{ITAL Detroit Repertory Theatre
13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit
Through March 12:
8:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday
3 p.m. Saturday
2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Sunday
$17 in advance; $20 at the door}


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