“Feeding Beatrice,” Kirsten Greenidge’s fascinatingly offbeat play running through Nov. 17 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, starts out as a lighthearted comedy-drama about a black couple who have achieved the American dream.
Lurie (Nathan James) and June (Lorene Chesley) live in a nice neighborhood, with the promise of a good life. June is more enthusiastic about the creaky house they’ve moved into than Lurie is — sometimes, it makes sounds that can’t be adequately explained. But he’s fine with whatever makes June happy.
That is, until she makes the acquaintance of Beatrice (Allison Winn), a young white woman obsessed with 1930s child movie star Shirley Temple. She also has an insatiable appetite for jam and a sinister history with the house. And it just so happens that she’s dead.
But that doesn’t stop Beatrice from making demands, which include insisting that Lurie dance with her — as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson danced with Temple onscreen. Lurie and June knew that home ownership might pose challenges, but they hadn’t planned on finding themselves in this kind of predicament.
Upward mobility obstructed by a ghost: It’s a premise worthy of Stephen King or legendary “Twilight Zone” mastermind Rod Serling, and Greenidge succeeds in weaving a tapestry that’s as hilarious as it is haunting. Only in the darker and more thematically ambitious second act do things come a bit unraveled.
Still, director Daniel Bryant elicits terrific performances from a cast that also includes Ronald Emile as Lurie’s easygoing brother Leroy. The show also benefits mightily from Lawrence E. Moten III’s meticulous scenic design, Heather Beal’s inspired choreography and the persistently eerie vibe conjured through the contributions of lighting designer Jason Lynch, sound designer David Kelepha Samba and costume designer Mika Eubanks.
Some theatergoers will find “Feeding Beatrice” enigmatic; others will less charitably find it baffling. But it’s unquestionably a captivating experience.