Sept. 3, 2004





Talkative trio rule 'Queen of Sheba'


The gift of gab is a precious endowment for stage characters, whose well-turned words can make them larger than life in ways films can't. When the short blonde huckster Doc Honeygreen (Skip Pipo) enters the theater in "The Queen of Sheba" to pitch his "genuine all-American golden tonic," he towers by sheer force of personality. He has us from hello.


So does playwright Bill Harris, whose play outlines an uneasy Depression-era triangle between the white Doc, his pretty black assistant Thalia (Pam Mack) and a black illusionist, ostensibly named Magic Tom (Spencer Scott), with a mysterious agenda and a dazzling verbal dexterity of his own.


The irresistible first act has the two men comparing notes on the life of the road. Doc sparks to Tom's deft flattery and confidence, while Tom subtly hones in on Doc's weak spot. Pipo and Scott play this suspenseful, slow-motion confrontation brilliantly, sizing each other up coolly behind the warm, easy laughter.


In the twist-filled second act, Harris expands the two-way dialogue to a contentious trio with the entrance of Mack's feisty Thalia. There may be a few twists too many here, and too many speeches spelling out Harris' ambitious themes. But "The Queen of Sheba," directed with feeling and humor by Yvette Culver, remains one of the more entertaining and refreshingly uncondescending plays you'll see about race and commerce in America.


"Find a way to profit from every exchange" is Doc's self-professed maxim. Audiences are likely to get something from most every exchange in "The Queen of Sheba."

--Rob Kendt


"The Queen of Sheba," Unity Players Ensemble at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 19. $20. (323) 860-3208.