Friday, April 19, 2024

"They Wear Teal Ribbons Around Their Tongues" by Full Circle Theater Company at Gremlin Theatre

In the new play They Wear Teal Ribbons Around Their Tongues by #TCTheater artist Siddeeqah Shabazz, a family therapy session turns into a '90s sitcom. But the cheesy laughs soon give way to some heavy drama, as painful secrets are revealed. Produced by Full Circle Theater Company, the play walks the fine line between comedy and drama, as does the talented cast. Come for the funny and comforting sitcom tropes, stay for the emotional truth of this dysfunctional but loving family. They Wear Teal Ribbons Around Their Tongues continues this weekend and next at Gremlin Theatre.

The play begins with the Douglass family at a therapy session with Dr. Marchbanks (Dominique Jones) after the death of patriarch Charles (Peyton Dixon). As mother Lena (Jasmine Porter) and children Evan (Darrick Mosley), Sharise (Dana Lee Thompson), and Brian (Michael Terrell Brown) grieve and reminisce, their memories play out like episodes of a sitcom, with the therapist observing from the sidelines. We even see two TV producers (Kashif and Ninchai Nok-Chiclana), who warm up the crowd, tell corny jokes, and encourage us to applaud. At first, we see happy or funny stories, like the time dad bought mom a "little red corvette" and the kids accidentally broke the window, or when dad, a doctor, helped out a man who couldn't afford to take his child to the doctor. The stories paint a rosy picture from the outside, but Sharise acts more and more uncomfortable, until she finally reveals some less than happy memories of her father. After that, the memories become like "very special episodes" of sitcoms that deal with heavy themes. At the end of the long therapy session, we get the sense that the family is just beginning their healing process.

Dana Lee Thompson and Jasmine Porter
(photo courtesy of Full Circle)
Director Lester Mayers navigates the tricky tonal shifts well, from the broad sitcom scenes played in an almost campy overdone way, to the more grounded reality of a family in therapy. The talented cast also does these shifts well, playing up the goofy sitcom scenes, but also really digging into the drama. They make a believable family, even if they are roughly in the same age range playing younger and older. A standout is Dana Lee Thompson, who makes Sharise's experience palpably, uncomfortably real. The shifts are signified by lighting and sound cues, and recorded videos are used for the opening credits and a few commercial breaks.

Gremlin's thrust stage has been converted into what feels like a real sitcom set, with a classic living room scene and a raised platform behind it in front of a patio door revealing a deck. Bookshelves and brick walls complete the look. The couch pillows and blanked turned from colorful to black are another cue that we're moving into the other reality. The cast is dressed in basic black, with a few pieces changed or added in different scenes. (Scenic design by Rick Polenek, lighting design by Alice Endo, sound design by Quinci Bachman, original compositions by Dan Dukich, costume design by Lester Mayers and Mimi Nguyen.)

See the funny, entertaining, and moving new play They Wear Teal Ribbons Around Their Tongues through April 28 at Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood (right next door to Lake Monster Brewing Company, with food delivery available from King Coil Spirits). Don't ask me what the title means; if it was revealed within the play I missed it. Let me know if you figure it out!