On stage now at Hollywood’s Theatre Asylum on Santa Monica Boulevard, “What We Don’t Say” is a play that probes the most intimate thoughts of a group of friends regarding themselves and their relationships with women. Well-staged and never static, this is a beautifully nuanced ensemble piece that incorporates filmed interviews together with live action. The setting is the opening of a jazz club where eight guys get together for an evening of reminiscences and conversation. Each man is at a different stage in a relationship, happily married, unhappily married, divorcing, rejected, widowed, and each actor engages the audience through a monologue to describe his feelings.
What is particularly effective is the compelling way in which each part is crafted giving the actor an instantly recognizable character to slip into. All of them make the most of the material, turning a few moments in the spotlight into fully formed individuals who speak from the heart. Eugene Byrd plays Mr. Loverman, a former hound dog with the ladies who has found true love with his wife. Cocky at first about his initial conquests, Loverman finally reveals the quiet contentment he feels built around a life with his soul mate.
Shay Roundtree, in a stand out performance, plays Mr. Trapped, a married man still in love with a wife who’s no longer sexually interested in him. Bewildered and confused, he tries to find the excitement he’s missing in visits to strip clubs. His painful discontent boils over in a plea that she save their marriage by being honest with him.
Michael Grant Terry is Mr. Naked, a gay guy in a loving relationship with a partner, both of whom are worried about the other’s set of parents. Kwesiu Jones is Mr. Scorned, the perfect husband blind-sided by his wife of 10 years who wants a divorce because perfection isn’t exciting enough anymore.
A corollary is Mr. Nice Guy, played with compelling urgency by Leonard E. Howze, a man whose dream woman left him because he was too nice. “She wanted a partner,” he tells his friends, “not a paperweight.”
The emotional extremes in the group include Torrance Jordan as Proud Papa, a man trying to love the child conceived when his wife was raped, and Andrew Thacher as the Widower, trying to find love a second time around. The monologues are finished by a mellow musical interlude played by Mr. Music (Caz Harleaux) whose guitar prowess led him to the violinist of his dreams. Connecting all of these men is the underlying suggestion that each man’s present experience could easily turn into another man’s future fate.
The play is based on a book by Jonathan Carroll, “Married to the Franchise,” which details interviews with research subjects focusing on the topics of love and marriage. Carroll has said that the purpose of his project, both book and play, is “to challenge our ideas of manhood and introduce alternative notions of what it is to be masculine.” From these interviews Carroll has winnowed a sharply witty but deeply moving group of characters and trusted them to a group of actors who have not let him down.
Directed by Kellee Stewart and produced by Nkechi Okoro Carroll, “What We Don’t Say” runs through Dec. 20. For further information, visit https://www.plays411.net/newsite/show/play_info.asp?show_id=3667.