Romantic comedy explores hot-button issues

By Tracey D’Astolfo

YOUNGSTOWN — The relationship between man and woman, and man and God, are at the heart of “The Fabric of a Man.”

The romantic comedy opened Friday at the Youngstown Playhouse, and a decent audience came out despite the snowy punch that a winter storm was delivering.

“Fabric” inserts a clear Gospel message that is not at all subtle. But it certainly isn’t afraid of the intimate parts or bawdy humor, which drew big laughs.

Directed by John Herbert and exceptionally well-cast, it explores interpersonal hot-button issues such as respect and selfishness, and whether a woman — especially a black woman — needs to be obedient to keep her man.

Although the mid-’90s script by David E. Talbert is still fresh, it gets an up-to-the-minute update with the addition of new cultural references. It also takes an introspective look at gender relations among black Americans, although the greater issues it explores apply to all races.

“Fabric” revolves around Dominique, an aspiring fashion designer and boutique owner. Aileen Harris — whose credits include network TV work, according to the playbill — sparkles in the role.

Dominique is caught in a dilemma because of her overbearing businessman boyfriend, Blair (Lewis Macklin, bombastic and evil enough to love). Does she forgo her career dreams to keep this wealthy but domineering man?

Enter Joshua, who is also a struggling designer. The polar opposite of the materialistic Blair, he is a way better match for Dominique — and a man of God to boot.

Dominique, you see, is the daughter of a preacher: the Rev. Majors (Keith Brown).

Three guesses which man wins Dominique’s heart.

There is some sermonizing along the way, much of it supplied by Joshua, who is played by Jere Beulah.

As the leader of local jazz-fusion band SounDoctrine, Beulah is no stranger to the stage, and he proves that also means the theater.

Providing comic relief is Ray Ray, Joshua’s boss and uncle. Wearing some loud clothes and wilder hair, he’s straight out of a ’70s sitcom.

Ray Ray is played with perfect timing by Byron Armour. He has a love-hate-love relationship with Ernestine (Karen Fears).

Rounding out the cast is Herbert (the director, doing double-duty) as Orlando, Dominique’s fabulously mouthy but down-home fashion assistant.

“Fabric” is technically a musical, but the songs are short, infrequent and low-key. That is, except for one showstopper belted out by Fears as a feisty but emotionally wounded Ernestine.

Herbert’s nicely paced work utilizes a beautiful two-sided stage: the fashion boutique on one side and the dry- cleaner shop where Joshua works on the other side. The action shifts between the two, with the unused side in the dark.

Coincidentally, “Fabric” comes at a time when “Preacher’s Kid” is playing in movie theaters, including Cinema South in Boardman. “Preacher’s Kid,” written and directed by Youngstown native Stan Foster, centers on a young woman who, like Dominique, is also the daughter of a pastor (as the title suggests). She joins the traveling gospel play circuit — the “Fabric of a Man” sort of production — and meets up with some double-dealers along the way as well.

X“Fabric of a Man” will be performed at 2:30 p.m. today; at 7:30 p.m. Friday and next Sunday; and 2:30 p.m. next Sunday at the Youngstown Playhouse, off Glenwood Avenue. Call (330) 788-8739 for reservations.

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