Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 25, $92
“No news is good news,” Joe (James Udom) says near the beginning of Chris Urch’s wrenching drama The Rolling Stone, which continues at the Mitzi E. Newhouse through August 25. The play is named after a short-lived paper in Kampala, Uganda, which in 2010 outed LGBTQ people, identifying them so that they would then be arrested, beaten, and/or murdered. A gutsy James Udom is Joe, a priest waiting to hear if he will be named pastor of his local church, which is filled with gossipers; he lives with his younger siblings, Dembe (Ato Blankson-Wood) and Wummie (Latoya Edwards), who are both preparing for admission exams that will allow them to attend medical school in London. In the wake of their father’s recent death, leaving them orphans, all three must make sacrifices. Joe gets the job, but he is beholden to church leader Mama (Myra Lucretia Taylor), who has her own agenda. Dembe, who has been expected to marry Mama’s daughter, Naome (Adenike Thomas) — who mysteriously hasn’t uttered a sound in six months — is hiding his relationship with Sam (Robert Gilbert), a doctor whose father is Irish and mother Ugandan. And Wummie is forced to work as a cleaning woman when it turns out their father did not leave behind the money they thought and Joe, who is fiercely antigay, decides that only Dembe can go to London. But as news and gossip spread about the gay outings, the siblings clash with one another as well as the church.
The horrific treatment of the LGBTQ community in Uganda has been well documented, in such films as Call Me Kuchu and the recent uproar over a fundraising campaign to open the country’s first LGBTQ center, which has been denounced by the government. The Rolling Stone focuses on the relationship between Dembe and Sam, which is problematic in that Blankson-Wood and Gilbert lack the chemistry necessary to lift the drama. The play works much better when director Saheem Ali (Fireflies, Nollywood Dreams) turns his attention on the siblings, especially once Wummie discovers Dembe’s secret, which she knows would turn Joe violently against him. Meanwhile, Naome’s silence is representative of the terror and hypocrisy experienced by Ugandans every day. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set consists of a wavy, weblike curtain in the back and a rectangular gray block that rises from below the stage to serve alternately as a rowboat, a bed, and a bench. “I hear two arrests have already been made,” Mama says, referring to another outing in the newspaper. “Not that I say anything. It’s not my place to say. I just humbly hope and pray. Pray for every living soul need prayer now.” But in a society where people are expected to turn in their brothers and sons, praying that homosexuals be harshly dealt with, there is little hope until systemic changes are made.