Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Good Negro"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Good Negro"

by Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed by Summer L. Williams

Costume Design by Miranda Giurleo
Lighting Design by Jarrod Bray
Sound & Projection Design by Jason E. Weber
Set Design by Christina Todesco
Assistant DirectorRobyn Jones
Master Electrician Lauren Glover
Props Assistant Ellie Anders
Dramaturg Heidi Nelson
Production Manager Alyssa McKeon
Technical Director Mark Abby Vanderzee
1st Assistant Stage Manager Peter Kinsella
2nd Assistant Stage Manager Dustin Bell
Stage Manager Alycia Marucci

James Lawrence.....................Jonathan L. Dent
Bill Rutherford........................Cedric Lilly
Agent Steve Moore/Police Officer 1.....Jeff Mahoney
Gary Thomas Rowe, Jr. ..................Greg Maraio
Claudette Sullivan...............Marvelyn McFarlane
Pelzie Sullivan........................James Milord
Henry Evans..............................Cliff Odle
Agent Paul Moore/Police Officer 2...Jonathan Overby
Corinne Lawrence......................Kris Sidberry

Sometimes it seems necessary to break a few laws in order to reassert justice, even though the result could be painful. In Birmingham Alabama in 1962 --- the setting of Tacey Scott Wilson's "The Good Negro" --- people on two sides of society broke laws to call attention to the assumptions underpinning those laws. One group used non-violent civil disobedience; the other used beatings, lynchings, lies, and even dynamite. Those on both sides, especially the leaders, were flawed human beings fighting tenaciously for what they believed was right. But a lot of people got badly hurt before the conflict was over. Company One has brought that conflict alive on their BCA stage in a gripping production directed by Summer L. Williams that may well be a flawlessly vivid theatrical triumph.

There is a serious difference between "reality" and "truth"; this play is full of "like-a-looks" who are not the real people who fought each other in this conflict. Instead of re-enacting facts, they reach beneath surfaces to embody larger meanings that dry history never touches. Jonathan L. Dent does not play Martin Luther King Jr., but the Rev. James Lawrence he does play travels the same road with the same speed-bumps and potholes of ambiguity. The semi-shaven foul-mouthed brawler that Greg Maraio plays is a step beyond The Klan; he is an eager informant/tool for two FBI-agents (Jeff Mahoney & Jonathan Overby) --- calm professionals bent on "discovering facts" that the home-office directs them to find. On both sides of the charismatic Rev. Lawrence are opposing lieutenants: a clinical office-manager bent on efficiency (Cedric Lilly) and a street-smart manipulator of practical political realities (Cliff Odle). Every one of these vastly different characters comes onstage convincingly real and acting out of depth and conviction.

But when two techtonic plates of society grind against one another, they often grind up the innocent as well. Here Kris Sidberry plays Rev. Lawrence's wife, suddenly aware that his convictions and his infidelities make their marriage impossible. Worst wounded though are Claudette and Pelzie Sullivan. Played by Marvelyn McFarlane, Claudette sets the entire conflict in motion when, finding the "Colored Toilet" broken, she takes her 4-year-old into the "Whites Only" facility and is arrested for breaking the law. In a sense, James Milord playing her husband is "a good negro" --- a practical man willing to live with indignities if that's what it takes to get along; a reluctant cog who, when the conflict makes this impossible, demands of both sides that they give his dignity back to him.

This is a big, complicated play, and the year is less than three weeks old, but once this juggernaught of truth sets in motion every moment opens new insights, every detail feels perfect, and ovations and awards are inevitable. This show is, in every way, historic.

( a k a larry stark )

"The Good Negro" (15 January - 6 February)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

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