Acclaimed theater director George C. Wolfe's made-for-HBO adaptation of Ruben Santiago-Hudson's memory play, which posits life not as a cabaret but as a block party, has a sharp ear for African-American rhythms, musically and dramatically. 1956: Unable to care for her baby, good-time girl Alean (Carmen Ejogo) relies on the help of her childless neighbor, Nanny Crosby (S. Epatha Merkerson). Strung out on drugs and associated with a string of different men, Alean eventually allows Nanny to raise little Ruben (Marcus Franklin) in her boarding house. For Ruben, the permanent nest offers not only stability but exposure to Nanny’s colorful tenants. Although Ruben spends time with his biological father and admires Nanny’s much-younger husband, Bill (Terrence Howard), the youngster learns a lot from the surrogate "uncles" living under Nanny's roof. A playwright in the making, Ruben stores up the anecdotes of Mr. Lucious (Delroy Lindo) and Ol'lem Taylor (Louis Gossett Jr.) for future reference. Nanny turns a blind eye to Bill's philandering; she only reads him the riot act when she catches him mistreating Ruben while trying to score with a woman. Having borne her share of inequity and bias, Nanny is unusually sympathetic to her boarders and neighbors, and treats everyone on her street like a member of her extended family. When she shelters a prizefighter's abused wife, Nanny doesn't flinch at the big palooka's threats. As Ruben matures into a young man, he bears witness to the deterioration of Nanny's health and the urban decay that eats away at his childhood stomping grounds. But Ruben can still hear the party music, still smell Nanny's soul food and still share Nanny's generous spirit with the world. Wolfe directs his amazing cast with raise-the-roof energy and transforms Santiago-Hudson's reminiscences into a celebration of community as family. Santiago-Hudson successfully reworked his own one-man show into this life-affirming spectacle, which gave the magnificent Merkerson the role of a lifetime and earned her an Emmy Award.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Acclaimed theater director George C. Wolfe's made-for-HBO adaptation of Ruben Santiago-Hudson's memory play, which posits life not as a cabaret but as a block party, has a sharp ear for African-American rhythms, musically and dramatically. 1956: Unable to… (more)