A Night on the Town
I started to write an entry about a terrific play I saw last Tuesday but decided against it for the sake of thematic unity. Now I can’t resist after this NYTimes article on the Obamas’ latest date. They descended on the city Saturday evening for dinner and a show, eating at Blue Hill (silly Frank Bruni) and attending Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
Just about a week ago, “the man in my life” (here on, MiML) had suggested this very same date for my early birthday celebration. I’ve been talking about a Blue Hill meal for a couple of years now, since a friend used to work at the affiliated Stone Barns Center in Westchester County and gave it high marks. Though for scheduling reasons MiML and I didn’t make it to the restaurant for our night out (hopefully it’ll happen after I return from VN by summer’s end), we saw Joe Turner on recommendation from his parents. To my surprise and delight, a good friend revealed she had worked as assistant director on it. Despite this bit of partiality, I’ll still say with enthusiasm it’s a show not to miss.
Part of August Wilson’s ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle, Joe Turner is set in the 1910s at a boarding house, where Seth (Ernie Hudson) and Bertha Holly (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) keep shop and Bynum Walker (Tony-nominated Roger Robinson) is the long-time resident “conjure” man. While various people come to the larger-than-life Bynum to seek remedies for their troubles, he can’t seem to come up with the exact potion for Herald Loomis (Chad L. Coleman), the show’s protagonist. Loomis is a newly freed slave from the South, traveling north with his daughter, Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh), in search of her mother, Martha. Martha becomes the ostensible symbol of Herald Loomis’ internal torment, as he struggles to hold onto himself and his life after forced separation of his family. Woven into the play are commentaries on the racial politics of job-seeking, black-white interactions in the North, and gender dynamics in romantic relationships.
Jackson and Robinson most convincingly embodied their characters. Particularly, with Robinson as Bynum, I could not envision the actor and his role as separate entities; he lifed the part so well. While the flexible but largely unchanging set indicated interior and exterior spaces, the performances did not make enough use of these elements to bring into focus the relationship of internal, personal demons with social, community issues. The changing nebulae-as-temper backdrop played a big part in punctuating the show with dramatic tones. This theatrics is the expected stuff of Broadway, but it worked well to support the actors’ crescendo at the end of each act. Especially smile-inducing was the juba sesh at the end of the first act. This ebullient spark, along with a few other scenes staged for chuckles, added welcome lightness to a show with a tear-jerker ending. All in all, except for a moment or two that fell short in their unmotivated romantic awkwardness, the rhythm and heart of the play translated well onstage.
Disappointingly, the NYT didn’t report on the Obamas’ opinion of the production. They were probably busy catching flak from Republicans for their supposedly lavish and “out of touch” jaunt. Instead, I’ll see what Charles Isherwood has to say. In any case, I always suspected this Prez and his First Lady had good taste 😉