After 37 years at the helm of Kuntu Repertory Theatre, founder and artistic director Vernell A. Lillie is preparing for retirement yet a second time, with a reprise of last season's The House That Carol Built. Commissioned by Kuntu Rep, local playwright Frank Lloyd Hightower celebrates the career and struggles of Carol Ann Brosier Calloway, a real-life, long-time educator and administrator at the University of Pittsburgh.
Fictionalized as Carol Ann Holloway, our heroine (pertly played by Stephanie "Stevie" Akers) lives in a modest but cheerful suburban home. This is the place that "Carol built" all on her own as a hard-working career woman and single mother after the divorce from her Vietnam War-scarred husband. It's where she successfully brings her two daughters and autistic son to the cusp of adulthood, making her own way and her own rules, despite what unnecessary advice her siblings may want to force upon her.
Carol is episodic (the playwright calls it "impressionistic"), not plot-driven, with many threads and much story-telling about the generations of Carol's family. Director Lillie keeps the pace leisurely and the atmosphere cozy, assisted by the intimate staging at the renovated auditorium in the Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
The cast of community and academic actors can present a mixed bag at times to back up Ms. Akers. Especially notable is tech-crew member Loni Johnson, who stepped into the role of Carol's son on short notice. Her daughters are played by the cheerful, almost puppyish Sharnece M. Thomas, and the promising young Ivory Bennett as the older sister facing doubts about growing up. Harmonizing with Akers is Terri L. Smith as her sister, with Benjamin Blakey as her feisty brother.
More a lacework than a tapestry, The House That Carol Built suggests, teases and jots the details of a life, with much left off-stage and for the audience to imagine.