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Despite some fine writing and music, Lenelle Moise's two-hander about a lifelong friendship lacks dramatic momentum. logo
Karla Mosley and Lenelle Moïse
in Expatriate
(© Alden Ford)
Lenelle Moise's two-hander Expatriate, now at The Culture Project, charts the ups and downs of the friendship between Claudie (Moise) and Alphine (Karla Mosley), two African-American females whose lifelong connectedness is tested by addiction, sexuality, and success, as they become disillusioned with America and eventually make their way to Europe to form a successful singing duo called Black Venus.

While the work lacks dramatic momentum and is too baldly earnest to make an entirely satisfying piece of theater, the playwright has a flair for flavorfully blending drama, music, and poetry; and her mission is further aided by Tamillo Woodard's confident direction.

Although Moise's writing doesn't entirely avoid the clichéd or the schematic -- on occasion, it seems that the characters' personality traits are contrived to be opposite of one another's -- she does render the dynamic between the women credibly and with nuance. Despite the frictions in the friends' relationship, we have the sense that the two care about each other, even when there is measured distance between them.

Still, the largely narrated play lacks a compellingly dramatized conflict, and too much of the play's action is interior. Also, the thematic promise in the idea that the two have to travel to Europe in order to live their American dream isn't fully realized. Instead, the story takes a generic "price of fame" turn in the second act in which race and sexuality are fairly irrelevant.

Additionally, the duo's rise to fame is poorly executed; the two are singing for their supper on the street corners of Paris one minute and are paparazzi bait the next. It isn't hard to accept that the two might get some measure of recognition and success thanks to their music, but it stretches credulity that their esoteric material would make them pop stars on the level that Moise depicts them.

Nonetheless, the musical numbers lend an appealing texture to the show. Accompanied by a sound loop machine operated by foot pedal, the two sing Moise's jazz fusion songs with urgency and passion. And while the numbers don't advance the plot, at least they illuminate what the characters are feeling about their experiences.

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