The news hook for The Catch, presented by DVA Productions at the Fort Worth Community Center’s Sanders Theater, is that local playwright Jordan E. Cooper is an 18-year-old high school junior. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news. This is a piece for a youth workshop, the sort of ambitious undertaking by a very young person that earns raves from family and friends…but needs a lot more time to grow up.
This overlong kitchen-sink drama (evocative set by David Ruffin) of a family struggling with the impact of HIV/AIDS in 1994 Chicago would challenge the most mature playwright. Mom and Dad are both HIV-positive. Dad is a recovering and repentant drug addict, once a respectable accountant, now long out of work. Mom works endless hours and worries about their son, a broody high schooler who dreams of giving his mother money, a big house, and “help” of her own. Father and son strike sparks whenever their paths cross, and (not enough yet?) Dad is holding on to some secrets that will Change Everyone’s Lives.
Not that the mostly adult cast, veterans all, aren’t trying their level best. As parents Marcus and Kathy, able actors Kendrick Mays and Shanidrea Evans have their moments. But moments are all they get, as the script ping-pongs from emotion to emotion without building a reality that will sustain it all. At one moment, these parents are facing the worst tragedy of their lives. But only seconds later, we’re asked to believe Marcus has shifted into “let’s cheer the little lady up” mode, cajoling Kathy into dancing to their favorite tune. As another character named Marcus (he’s one of the secrets), Aaron Petite also does his best with a quiet, rather formless role: after the lurching emotions of the other characters, his stillness comes as a relief, in fact. As teen son Trey, playwright/actor Jordan E. Cooper has an authentically rangy, all-over-the-room body language, but doesn’t quite convince us of his character’s growing desperation.
The script offers an abundance of messages, the clearest of them connecting with the title. Life will always throw you curve balls, says the script. And each of us shows what we’re made of by how (or if) we make “the catch.” Grab onto that curve ball, take control of it, and you drain its power to hurt or harm—you take charge of your own destiny.
Under artistic director Sheran Goodspeed Keyton, DVA Productions, Inc. has earned good-to-great reviews in the last couple of years for a mix of original musicals (their strong suit) and straight plays (Steel Magnolias is up next). Their educational outreach programs and youth theater workshops are a growing presence in the city. And it’s an admirable thing to have, as the company states, a commitment to “emerging” writers. But it isn’t fair to any young artist to have work brought before the public that is far, far away from being ready for a primetime viewing.