The setup: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Superstar NFL QB kills dog!
The execution: Award-winning playwright Y York (who also wrote ...and L.A. Is Burning -- another Main Street Theater world premiere) adapts the story of former Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick and transforms his criminal act into an ultimately sympathetic tale. Unlike Vick, who had been dog baiting for years, York's fictional LJ Freeman (the charismatic Timothy Eric) goes gaga just once, but the fatal canine choking is filmed by a security camera and goes viral over YouTube.
At once, his stellar career collapses; his marriage to Karen (Eva Laporte), a former Miss Alabama, teeters precariously; LJ's hotshot lawyer (Brian H. Thornton) wiggles back into Karen's life wanting to revive their affair; LJ's mom Ruby (Alice M. Gatling) refuses to hear anything negative, having pulled out all the TV cables and buried the phone in a drawer; LJ's former elementary school science teacher, Mrs. Jones (Joyce Anastasia Murray), continues to inspire; while preteen adoring daughter Jackie (Maya M. Wilson) eyes her newborn brother, who's suspiciously, awfully, white, as threat and competition.
A lot of complications pile up, but nobody deals directly with LJ's heinous action, content instead to dance around it. As a matter of fact, they gavotte around all the conflicts York ignites: combustible topics like interracial marriage and infidelity, among others. Daughter Jackie keeps prodding, wanting everybody to look at the condemning video, but the adults have their heads planted firmly in the ground. Not even the evil press makes an appearance. You'd think they'd be camped outside or, at least, be sneaking through the shrubbery to ambush all wary protagonists.
Still, the play's a treasure chest for the deft Main Street ensemble, who, under the skillful direction of Troy Scheid, find real heart and soul among the soap opera suds that York whips up. Mr. Eric, brimming with machismo, leads the way magnificently. We never doubt LJ's final resolve or tearful confession, and we believe whatever Eric says, unlike the real-life Vick. Ms. Gatling, as LJ's mom Ruby, although her character is constantly referred to by others as daft and loopy, makes the most sense of anybody in the play and imbues this no-nonsense woman with deep intelligence and snappy wit. She's the beating heart of York's drama, and Gatling savors every moment, as we do her multilayered performance.
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The verdict: Torn from the headlines, York's drama verges on movie-of-the-week, but the precise production and whip-lash acting keep the play from going soft. "Love conquers all" is her message; let no dead dog put it asunder.
Through October 9. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. 713-524-6706.