Sycamore Rouge's world premiere of Woody Eney's “40 Acres and a POW” is a study of good intentions and where the roads they pave can lead.
Eney intends to make statements about prejudice and how it weakens society through the story of an African-American family that arranges for a German POW to help on a Virginia farm during World War II. The only problem is that the playwright fails to create full characters or settle on a genre from which to transmit the message. The result is a historically inaccurate muddle of drama, comedy and morality play packed with clichAcs and ending with stomach churning schmaltz.
The script sabotages itself with a strong arm approach to the subject matter, stereotypical characters and inappropriate interruptions. There is a moment at the pinnacle of the play in which two dumb redneck boys -- Puddin (Adam Minks) and Taters (Jack Lambert) -- are holding guns (one is a flint lock?) on an African American family. The Bible-quoting mother, Cassandra (Shalandis Wheeler), offers them coffee and pie. The action is broken for a moment as the boys rush to take seats at the table as if coffee and pie would make them forget the reasons they are holding them at gunpoint. The tension is completely obliterated, entirely deflating the impact of the play.
The only moments that are theatrically valid are contained in a scene in which Magdelynn , the daughter (Khalila Roney), is teaching English to Rolf. There is some real connection here and some sweet moments.
It is important to support new works and emerging theatre companies but please know that the only payoff one gets from buying a ticket for this show is strictly a philanthropic one -- good intentions and all.
“40 Acres and a POW” is playing at Sycamore Rouge in Petersburg now through Nov. 7 on select dates. For tickets and information call 804-957-5707.