Strong Star, Tired Message

Out of the Box

Unlike these bolder artists, Stephens has filled a bulletin board outside the theater with articles on hate crimes, apparently hoping that theatergoers will read them on the way in and make the connection between the headlines and what they see on stage. In a better work, these newspaper clippings would be superfluous. Yet Stephens' bland social aphorisms are the weakest element of Out of the Box. "We tell our children 'Just say no,'" she laments, "when we haven't tried to teach them the meaning of the word."

Writer-actress Karen Stephens is handicapped by writing, not race
Writer-actress Karen Stephens is handicapped by writing, not race

Details

Written and performed by Karen Stephens. Through November 29.
Presented by the Florida Stage at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive St., West Palm Beach, 561-585-3433.

When the actress does infuse her story with the sorts of revelations that could make it memorable, she backs away from examining them. We hear snatches of a letter from the white boyfriend she had during her college years, but we never learn how a serious biracial relationship affected her. She invokes the names of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers without explaining who these Civil Rights-era martyrs were or why they mattered or still matter to her. She refers to the racial segregation of Palm Beach but doesn't explore it. Oddly, the most potent moment in Out of the Box occurs as the actress revisits the mid-'60s assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers, then links them to the violence she witnessed around her as a child. Noting that her neighborhood was not immune to murder, she thinks out loud: "Grandma says we're not even supposed to say the word hate. But I feel it." If only she had more power to make us feel it, too.

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