Deli (Terrell Tilford) owns the struggling restaurant Elmina’s Kitchen in a seedy London borough of Hackney. An ex-boxer, Deli is a fairly decent cook and an even-tempered shopkeeper. His restaurant survives on phone in take-aways orders and the patronage of his few regular customers, Clifton (Basil Wallace) and Digger (Noel Arthur), a local bookie that Deli has known since he & Digger were both kids.
It is because of that life long friendship that Digger rejects the constant overtures he gets from Deli’s teenaged son Ashley (Aaron Jennings). Ashley is bored with school and with working for his father at the restaurant, while being completely seduced by Digger’s apparent power and wealth. The allure of the thug life is strong with Ashley.
On the eve of the release of Deli’s brother, Baygee (Leon Morenzie), Deli’s father lands as part of an impromptu welcome back gathering. Animated and gregarious Baygee is filled with stories and song, all of which fail to penetrate Deli’s disdain for him. The shop also receives a visit from the vivacious, attractive Anastasia (Tracey A. Leigh). She has seen the restaurant and decided that she would not only like to work there, but that she will also help bring some semblance of respectability to the establishment.
The first change Anastasia demands is that Deli send Digger packing, claiming that he is the one keeping customers away. For her, for his son and for the restaurant, Deli tells Digger to stopping coming around; Digger does not take this the new mandate lightly. Stung by Deli’s betrayal, Digger no longer treats Ashley like forbidden fruit and quickly, but quietly lures the teenager into a life of crime. In the end, it is a race to see it these father’s can connect with their sons before society and circumstance swallows them all whole.
Elmina’s Kitchen is a power piece of writing. More than any play I have seen in some time, the piece illuminates the formidable chasm that has insinuated itself in between the generations of the later 20th and early 21st centuries. There are quite a few of us out these who are fortunate benefactors of the practice “it takes a village” – before a famous politician coined it within pop culture. Yet those days seem so far behind us, and families, as a result have become increasingly isolated in their daily struggles, leading to a society that is dangerously fragmented. Kwame Kwei-Armah’s play reminds us that the phenomenon is indeed a sociological question more so that a geographic one; that disenfranchisement breeds discontent, regardless of continent.
Congratulations are in order to director Gregg T. Daniel for his thoughtful, taut direction, particularly in the threating of an “Ancestral World” that served as the connective tissue between past and present, and an ingenious, visual cue of the play theme. Noel Arthur stands out for his performance of Digger. Arthur’s Digger is a small time thug that is both sunny and playful, but effortlessly turns dark and dangerous in a dime. His performance gives Digger power, vulnerability, and surprising shades of honor. Well Done.
If I have one criticism, it would be my dismay about the only female character in the play. In her introduction, Anastasia is the catalyst for much needed change, pushing Deli forward to something more hopeful. Ultimately, she character turns out to represent at worst sex, and at best chaos. I didn’t understand the dramatic necessity of her downfall; it seemed to come out of nowhere. Elmina’s Kitchen is undeniably a piece about the interrelationships of men; I guess I just wished the playwright could have made more honorable use of the play’s only female character.
Elmina’s Kitchen is currently running through September 9, 2012 at:
The Lost Studio
130 S. LaBrea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(Between 1st & 2nd Streets)
Ticket info: 323.960.4451