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Review of "FBE (Family Before Everything)"

Phil Davis and his Alemaedae Theater have returned with another hard-hitting tale of life on urban mean streets: "F.B.E.," subtitled "Family Before Everything." This is the latest play -- on stage through tonight at Buffalo East -- from Davis and his frequent collaborator, Taura "Chyna" Stephens, coming on the heels of their acclaimed "Zooman & The Sign" at Ujima last spring."F.B.E." is a story of family secrets, dark doings that members barely whisper and festering deeds of long ago that surface violently during a time that should have marked new beginnings. The esteemed Willie Judson directs this story of shattered dreams.Gloria is a widow living with her two teenagers, headstrong Sade, a college scholarship winner about to leave for greener pastures; and nice-kid Julian, trying to support his family but suddenly in over his head peddling pot to make a few bucks. This is "Cold Springs" in the "Queen City," close to home it seems. That makes "F.B.E." tougher to watch. It's also the 'hood, where drug-dealer Bolo is king, a turf-smart dude with a short fuse but a soft spot for Julian. Bolo constantly repeats a mantra: "Family before everything," he preaches to Julian: "F.B.E." Bolo is not to be messed with.Trouble begins when Julian is asked to recruit straight-arrow Ricky, a lifelong pal, to sell some "stuff." When the menacing B.J. -- director Judson doing double-duty -- ups the ante to cocaine in Julian's pocket, Gloria's long-suppressed rage begins to boil."F.B.E." ends badly for just about everybody as family ties -- the "secret" part of all this -- become unglued, gunshots ring and the familiar "wrong place at the wrong time" scenario unfolds. In the chaos, Julian mumbles "I'm sorry" to Gloria. It's hardly enough.Playwrights Davis and Stephens and director/actor Judson have gathered a stellar cast -- many of them Robeson and Ujima veterans, but they are mixed with some impressive newcomers.Monique Webb's Gloria is always close to losing it, years of struggle and worry primed for collapse. Excellent. Bill King Jr. is superb as a complex and consistently scary Bolo and there is fine work by India Moss, Shantel Webb, Shabar Rouse, Sherri Singletary and Mario Ross, as Julian.The writing is crisp, the characters memorable and the action all too real in this "F.B.E." Let's hope that authors Davis and Stephens get back to work soon. ***"F.B.E." 3 stars (out of 4)

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