A Taste of Honey, now at the Odyssey Theatre through November 27th is a deeply felt revival of a 1958 classic. Directed by Kim Rubenstein, the once shocking Shelagh Delaney play is in firm hands, with innovative staging and a terrific cast.
On paper the play sound like a sad but pulpy tale. Teenage Jo (Kestrel Leah) is left by her mother Helen (Sarah Underwood) when the latter runs off with her latest paramour, uncouth but moneyed Peter (Eric Hunicutt). Left unattended, Jo has an affair with a handsome black sailor Jimmie (Gerard Joseph), becomes pregnant, and with both mother and lover MIA, invites a tender, caring gay friend, Geoff (Leland Montgomery) to live with her. He’s ready to help her raise her baby until mama, rejected by her lover, decides to move back in.
That Geoff’s character even existed as a serious and admirable member of the cast was shocking in 1958, now it hardly stands out. What does remain vigorous and noteworthy is the sharp and pointed dialog, and the show’s equally-groundbreaking-at-the-time breaking of the 4th wall, as characters address the audience, and here interact with a live trio on set.
The music and the lighting here adds a quality of hip, slightly surreal, and intrinsically contemporary gravitas to the production, which is very much rooted to it’s setting in the U.K., and it’s time period.
Yes, the story is the stuff of melodrama and neither the sexual orientation nor race of the characters are cutting edge today. All the same, this is a story of tragedy, loss, birth, death, and the potential, perhaps lost, for redemption. That makes it classic, rather than dated; and the Odyssey’s production is a fine showcase for the play. Directing and performances are both top rate, adding new lustre to an old jewel.
The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. on the west side. Performances run 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (also 8 p.m. some Wednesdays and Thursdays) through Nov. 27th.