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Ring Cycle

Dante's marriage is going to hell in a handbasket. Or perhaps a briefcase would be more accurate. After 12 years of matrimony and two kids, his high-powered ad executive spouse, Diana, is more interested in a class-action suit (and her smooth-talking legal adviser) than in celebrating their anniversary. And while this model husband has recently been promoted to parole officer, he's ill equipped to handle his wife's marital truancy. Welcome to William a. Parker's nightmare of buppie marriage: If women don't understand their men—or themselves—how can "a black man trust a woman with his life?"

For the play's first few minutes there's hope that Parker's politically incorrect dialogue will air out some stale shibboleths. Dante's friend Larry (the assured O.L. Duke) offers an outrageously unrepentant take on the African American out-of-wedlock birthrate ("Child support: the black man's crucifix") but soon leaves the stage to actors of lesser skill and a story with more soap than sociology. Too bad, since even Dante starts out with something real to say about Old Skool power sharing; his mother ironed his father's shirts every morning not in servitude but "because it gave her pleasure." Unfortunately, his analyses quickly descend into dick discourse ("I can't think straight with my stuff swollen").

In the end—not that the play really has one—Parker doesn't seem to have much more distance from the subject than his (inconsistent) characters, and the result is immediacy without insight. That said, audiences respond to his in-your-face style: There's more talkin' back from the house than on many a Sunday morning at your local A.M.E. church.

Parker's title is presumably a satiric spin on Terry McMillan's bestselling paean to the romantic plight of professional black women, Waiting to Exhale. But if you go to this show expecting anything like a trenchant examination of African American gender wars, don't hold your breath.


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