“Write when the heat is in you,” once advised Henry David Thoreau.
Well, when Harold T. Fisher wrote his first novel, “Two Weeks Until the Rest of My Life,” a couple of years back, he must have been in the throes of a record fever.
If Fisher’s name rings a bell, know that he once was on-air locally in the late 1990s at WGRZ-TV as a reporter and news anchor before moving on to other venues, notably Washington, D.C./Baltimore where he now lives, working for Howard University Radio while just beginning to flesh out the plot of his second narrative.
While at Channel 2, Fisher was a colleague of Paulette Harris, now the artistic director of the African-American Cultural Center’s Paul Robeson Theatre. Fast forward to recently. Harris and the Robeson’s resident actress and singer, the award-winning Mary Craig, read “Two Weeks,” a book called a “sensual page-turner” by one reviewer, loved it and thought that the words on the page would be great on the stage. The astute Harris and the savvy Craig made the proposal to Fisher, and he agreed. Harris would adapt the novel into play form, with Craig at her side, and in time the Robeson would present a “world premiere.”
That time has arrived. The Robeson has opened the stage version of “Two Weeks,” with novelist Fisher in attendance for the first performance. Adaptor Harris looked harried; Craig, the play’s director, looked tired; Fisher looked pleased.
Let’s return to the topic of heat, part and parcel of this often very naughty “urban erotica-romance,” as Fisher describes it. The story introduces Denise Younger, a governmental worker in the nation’s capital. Denise is nearing the Big 4-0 and feels unloved and underappreciated. Over the years she’s sent a couple of loser lovers to the curb and she needs a break. Off she goes to New Orleans for a conference. Faster than you can say, “Where’s the French Quarter?” she meets Tyriq, many years her junior. He’s bright and suave and he’s a stud. After dinner and a couple of Mississippi Moonlight cocktails, an inhibition-loosening Delta concoction, it’s off to the sack for that night and the next.
Denise has next-day regrets, of course, but who is going to know? “I’m far from home,” she thinks. “It’s just a lark. A boy-toy for a few days. But, what was I thinking?”
There is spark despite the age difference. New Orleans, “the Big Easy?” This was “Too Easy.” They make plans, he’ll move, get a job, they’ll be near each other. About now, an uneasy feeling starts to pervade “Two Weeks Until the Rest of My Life.” What was a tale that was sassy, sexy and flip now turns edgy. Novelist Fisher and interpreter Harris both bring judgment, decision-making and consequences to the fore and the play slyly changes gears. Denise and Tyriq both thought they were ready to move on. There is a game-changing event, an unspeakable tragedy and also, fulfillment. Heavy-duty stuff.
The Robeson presents its best cast in some time; it’s a new benchmark for the company. Annette Christian is a superb Denise, sweetly frustrated but too late wary; Debbi Davis is scene-stealing gal-pal Bonnie; and Pete Johnson is an impressive, smooth but ultimately honest Tyriq. Dependable Sandra Gilliam is along; Tiaona Loman, as sex-kitten Saundra, stretches credibility but is excellent as a late-play voice of reason.
The cast also includes Chalma Warmley and Quanaejah McPhyrce, a charmer as hotel clerk Lisette.
This “Two Weeks” is a step beyond a “work in progress.” But, it could use some tweaking if it goes elsewhere, as planned. The story is told in a series of blackouts, too many of them interminable. Characters make far too many cellphone calls; they don’t move the action along and most conversations are inane and empty.
The plot may remind some of the Angela Bassett 1998 film, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” There are similarities. But, importantly, significant differences.
Two Weeks Until the Rest of My Life
When: Through June 2
Where: African-American Cultural Center’s Paul Robeson Theatre, 650 Masten Ave.
Info: 884-2013, africancultural.org