Troy Foundry Theatre’s “Hard Candy” is Sweet and Pleasing
With the World Premiere of “Hard Candy & Misdemeanors,” Troy Foundry Theatre has produced (of all things!) a workplace comedy that plays on your emotions. It can rile you up and make you stop and think but mostly it will tickle you. That’s a lot for one night, and if this amiable play is most successful in its sunniest moments… well, what’s wrong with that?
The play opens with Roxanne Brewer (Bianca Stinney) laying down the law to her somewhat younger cousin and new charge, Lily Brewer (Q’ubilah Sales), as they enter Roxanne’s The Quickie Shop break room. Roxanne spells out what their relationship will be for the next two and a half months before Lily returns to school. This is what it means to be the Guardian. Stinney, who impressed so much in BTTUNY’s “The Light,” is even better here. As an actor, she is more economical and more trusting in her power. She wears the burdens and responsibilities that this failing store (that she has inherited from her parents who died too young) has placed on her, yet she can still cut loose and will be ready for single lady’s nacho night by the end of the play.
Q’ubilah Sales, who is the discovery of the night for me, is a riot as a sullen teenager who can wither you in a glance or take your measure and spit you out with a teeth-sucking toss of the head. She easily gets laughs, yet is also very effective in her harrowing speech describing her criminal offense responsible for Roxanne bailing her out.
Also working in the store are Capital Region stalwarts Michael Lake (“Topdog/Underdog”) as Quickie Shop security Korbin Hart and Morgan Heyward as the cashier, Brandy Elliot. It’s a testament to the Capital Region talent pool that actors this fine can be persuaded to play these relatively minor characters. Lake is endearingly sunny, his biggest complaint with the world, it seems, is that his uniform shirt doesn’t fit him. Heyward (“Knock Me a Kiss,” “…Miz Martha Washington”), as usual, can steal a scene with a glance. She is so smart that I enjoy just watching her think. She makes listening adventurous. She also recounts the filthiest, most confounding pick-up line imaginable.
Carrying the romance of the piece is a local caught for shoplifting, Nassir Carter, played by Alexander Heck (“The Piano Lesson,” “Topdog/Underdog”). His scene with Lily is the beating heart of the play, which sums up what the playwright thinks about who these characters are to themselves and who they are when they step out into the world. Carter insists that he’s smart even if he was caught with a backpack full of junk food. Dumb things will happen, but he will refuse to let his missteps define him. Instead, he rises, fixes the slushie machine as penance, and inspires the store. This scene is so stirring that the play could have almost ended here, and we would be satisfied.
The playwright, Chris Eli Blak (2023 Black Broadway Men Playwriting Initiative winner), is a definite find. He can write funny lines; he can move you with a story (Brandy seeing herself as the lunch lady that everyone ignores is especially vivid), and best of all, he can write characters you care about. I didn’t feel there was a great deal at stake for these disparate characters, but that’s alright. I was very entertained and enjoyed the company of these excellent actors immensely.
Best of all, it was directed by Angelique Powell (“Knock Me a Kiss,” ”Fireflies”), who is one of the absolute finest actors in the Capital Region. It’s thrilling to see theater artists branch out and challenge themselves in a new area. She had an assured communication with her cast, an instinct for stage pictures, and a steady hand behind all of her technical choices. Well done. It’s exciting to see such a strong production from a first-time director and dream about what else they might produce in the future.
The scenic concept, with the actors dressed all in white on a white background, was by Collectiveffort and Troy Foundry Theatre, sound and lighting design by Willie David Short.
All performances will take place at Collective Effort’s Kickback Studios, located at 10 2nd St., 2nd Floor, Troy, NY, 12180. Tickets: Buy tickets for Troy Foundry Theatre (tickettailor.com)