- The Red Dress
The Red Dress, now playing at Baobab Stage in Town Square, wants to be an important play about a searing topic, but the craft is not up to the story it wants to tell. Written by and starring Wassa Coulibaly, Dress tells the story of Zallo Molokai, an African woman abused by her family, brought to America by an unscrupulous lover and finally coerced into prostitution. Coulibaly’s script is relentless in its portrayal of Zallo as a victim and wastes no time in setting up the language of the show—never ever did I think I’d see a show open with a flashback/dream-sequence dance number portraying female circumcision, complete with machete-wielding circumciser.
Despite their horrific nature, the events of Zallo’s life are given short shrift by Coulibaly’s script; it continually tells the audience how to feel about everything. And when it does try to portray an action, as when an American named Michael (played by Tony Foresta) woos Zallo, the lines are amateurish and stunted, having zero emotional impact. The dance sequences mostly eschew speaking altogether, and are lifted by the fact that Coulibaly is an extremely gifted dancer, but they are still a bit repetitive and suffer from the same overwrought melodrama.
The cast weaves in and out of tale unremarkably except for Enoch Scott, delightfully wicked as Father, who runs a high-end burlesque/brothel. His number introducing Zallo to the world of prostitution is filled with the same stilted dialogue as the rest of the show, but he takes to it with a fierce zest and unapologetic mustache-twirling that leavens his scenes.
Technically, The Red Dress shows its Cirque pedigree (Coulibaly, director J-P Loppo Martinez and others in the cast have ties to various Cirque du Soleil shows), with a smart set design and gorgeous costume work that has great pieces ranging from traditional African garb to gorgeous burlesque costumes. But even though the cast is stunning when it comes out dressed all in white to grant Zallo her dreamt-of absolution in the finale, the emotional resonance is missing, as it is throughout the show.