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American Prom offers hope that we are none of us so entrenched in our ways that we can’t change

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American Prom, Thursdays-Sundays through Feb. 10, times vary, Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 N. Nevada Ave., tickets start at $38.50, free for UCCS students, uccspresents.org. - ISAIAH DOWNING
  • Isaiah Downing
  • American Prom, Thursdays-Sundays through Feb. 10, times vary, Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 N. Nevada Ave., tickets start at $38.50, free for UCCS students, uccspresents.org.
Not every problem has an easy solution. In Idris Goodwin’s new play for TheatreWorks, American Prom, the audience learns this lesson in regard to complex systems of racism and homophobia, but we also learn that we must always strive to find the solution, easy or not. The play’s teenage protagonists Kia (Ilasiea Gray) and Jimmy (Mark Autry) stand no better equipped to address prejudice and privilege than the rest of their town, but they make some progress, and that proves to be enough.

Though the play examines our internalized prejudices, and the complacency that leads us to perpetuate those prejudices, Goodwin manages to add a lot of levity, even when dealing with difficult themes.

The story takes place in a small town called Principal, in “anywhere” America. For decades, local students have attended segregated proms by tradition rather than decree, but Jimmy wants to take his best friend Kia to the “white” prom, and from his place of privilege he doesn’t understand why she would refuse.

Interwoven with poetic asides by the townspeople of Principal, functioning almost like a Greek chorus, the story follows Jimmy and Kia’s quest to host a dance for everyone — every race, every sexuality and every student — in Jimmy’s dad’s garage.
Gray, in the role of Kia, knocks it out of the park from moment go, with an infectious smile and a bold personality, though she handles her heavier emotional scenes with gut-wrenching gravity. Autry in the role of Jimmy comes off endearing, if a little awkward, and his attempts to rap definitely contribute to some of the show’s many laughs. A particular joy of the play, Iz Icon (Jimmy’s favorite hip-hop artist, played by Tre’Vonne Bell), struts around the stage with infectious charm and energy.

All these performances take place against the backdrop of Jimmy Sr.’s garage, a brilliantly designed set with plentiful engaging details (credit to Lawrence Moten, Sarah Shaver, Mike Wood and RJ Jackson for stellar design work). This includes fluid and effective lighting that changes color as the kids rap or sing or otherwise lose themselves in music — a thread that ties the whole story together.



It feels appropriate that most character development takes place through music. Goodwin, an accomplished poet as well as a playwright, has woven his passion for wordplay and rhythm into the story to excellent effect.

And, while the play offers no solution to the issues it presents, it offers hope that we are none of us so entrenched in our ways that we can’t change.

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