Be prepared to feel surprised, to cry, to laugh, to tap your feet, and wriggle uncontrollably in your seat upon seeing Art Forms and Theatre Concepts' production of Hambone. Written by young, theatrical rising star Javon Johnson of Anderson, S.C., Hambone takes its name from an enduring invention by African slaves. Deprived of their traditional drums, communication, and talkin' to God, the slaves re-created their life-sustaining rhythms, relying on tambourines, the bones of animals, and especially with spirited hand-clapping, body and thigh-slapping.
The gritty music of James Brown (encountered in prison by one of the play's characters) serves as background to the rhythmic, robust hambone dancing that permeates the play. The dialogue is much like the dancing: snappy and impassioned. Almost the entire play takes place inside a small luncheonette somewhere in the Deep South. The time is 1988 and the flying of the Confederate flag over South Carolina's statehouse is still a hot-button issue.
The plot revolves around five men: Bishop (played by Delvin Williams), owner of the diner and his foster son, Tyrone (Nicholas James), fast approaching manhood and yearning to escape small-town life; Henry (Christopher Gay), Bishop's "blood brother," seething with distrust of white people; Bobbilee (Eddie Vanderhorst), young but already a hardened ex-con; and Harrison (Greg Lovelace), a white railroad man from Charleston who frequently eats at the diner, but keeps to himself.
Intergenerational and interracial conflicts and the crossroads of approaching adulthood constitute the "bones" of this play, but its heart can be found in director Art Gilliard, who says the play's theme is one we can all relate to — precious family secrets that may be lost forever to the silence of the grave. As it turns out, in Hambone, some wrenching secrets are saved from that fate — whether learning what they are in Art Forms' new play is a rousing time or not remains to be seen.
HAMBONE • Piccolo Spoleto's Theatre Series • $20, $15 seniors/students • May 26, 28 at 7 p.m.; May 30, 31 at 6 p.m.; June 3, 6 and 7 at 8 p.m.; June 9 at 9 p.m. • 1 hour 45 min • Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. • 554-6060