They’re the 1342 Dupont Circle Heroes! And they are appearing for a limited run engagement at the Greenbelt Arts Center. An evocative story of humanity and human nature written by Cheryl Poole, this one-act production is a striking performance that touches the deepest part of the audience’s souls. Directed by Gregory Poole, the story follows the memories of a quartet of men— self-proclaimed the Dupont Circle Heroes— a bumpy stumble down memory lane to a darker time that may have all but escaped their minds as time left them in the past.
Playwright Cheryl Poole has a brilliant piece of work in the making. Her characters are grounded in reality and represent raw human emotion. Regardless of the color of your skin, the age of your bones, or the gender of your body; the story that these men tell is relatable to the audience. They are human being telling a story with Poole’s words. Her distinctive writing style is two-fold; the novelistic narrator in her bursting forth between scenes with monologues saved for the character Thyme. These internal narrations are highly stylized and read almost like narrative prose; expository yet deep. Poole’s dialogue captures the vernacular of the culture and of the era; a flawless transition between the 60’s and the 80’s in her writing leaves echoes of the experiences of their past in the characters’ words that the speak in the present future.
The cast is exceptional under Director Gregory Poole; the focus of the performance being on telling the story of these characters. The four performers who serve in this production as the Heroes— Poole himself as Feets, along with Thomas Freeman (Mathombo) Steve Langley, and Terrance Hawkins— have a connectivity that surpasses the ages. Particularly for Poole and Freeman as they start off the scenes in the present and relive most of the scenes in the flashbacks. Poole’s sharp eye guides these moments of emotional intensity into clarity; allowing the gravity of the situation to unfold without feeling contrived.
Poole, as a performer, develops his character thoroughly, as do the other performers. The juxtaposition between his slower and more jaded approach to the character in present time against the lively and rowdy fun-lover from the past creates an intriguing dynamic to watch. Freeman, as TJ, gives the audience a truly touching, albeit harrowing, performance of living through a great tragedy. Steve Langley, as the spunky ‘Black Jimmy’ has a comic joke ready to burst from within him, twittering all about in his physicality. But do not mistake his constant antics for an inability to ground emotional shock into his character. These three men achieve a striking intensity during the finale of the prison scene that grips fiercely onto your heartstrings.
Suede, the misunderstood struggling character, grows quickly in the minds of the audience as the antagonist. Terrance Hawkins does an exceptional job of balancing the lighter nature of his existence against his darker past and creates appropriate tension between himself and Thyme (Autumn Butler.)
As for Butler, she gives an emotionally compelling performance every time she takes the front of house spotlight with her heartbreaking monologue delivery. Her presence of mind is clear, her emotions running wild put cleanly articulated. One of her most touching moments comes from a scene where she plays her five-year-old self with her Mother (Dena Colvin.) Butler convincingly adapts her body and speech patterns to that of a young toddler without letting the character become cartoonish. That same scene allows Colvin to show a mother’s love is unyielding even when things look bleak and confusing.
The message is a wonderful one to behold. The play is most exceptionally well penned, and well performed. It is an evocative work that should not be missed.
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes with no intermission