Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Patience of Nantucket"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark

"Patience of Nantucket"

by Robert Johnson Jr.
Directed by Akiba Abaka

Set Design by Peter Colao
Lighting Design by PJ Strachman
Costume Design by Akiba Abaka
Sound Design by Ben Truppin-Brown
House Manager Trena Matos-Ambroise
Stage Manager Nick Brown

Patience Cooper...............Marie Guinier
Mary Gardner.......Mary Elizabeth Rutkowski
Rev. James Crawford.......Joe Lee Baker Bay
Uriah Gardner.......................Ed Peed
Attorney Marston..............Mark Bourbeau
Trilona Pompey............Dosha Ellis Beard
Alfred Macy.....................Brian Quint
Mark Salom........................Jeff Gill
Nathaniel Fitzgerald..............Bern Budd
Dr. Sherman.................Jesse Strachman
Attorney Gardner................Paul Shafer
Judge Brigham..................Robert Runck

Akiba Abaka, Artistic Director of the Up You Mighty Race Company has found a fascinating history-play, and an excellent cast to bring it to life. Robert Johnson Junior's "Patience of Nantucket" examines race problems at the edges of the Civil War and off the coast of Massachusetts. At the center of the story is Patience Cooper (Marie Guinier), tried twice and kept in a fourteen-foot cell for eight years (three of them while awaiting her second trial) while insisting she had not murdered a White store-keeper. Witnesses who might clear her are either ill or off the tight little island of Nantucket. Conflicts still alive from attempts of "Colored Town" to desegregate the Island's high school ripple through the play's subtext, along with religious wars against the Quakers who advocated desegregation.

Johnson's aim is not to solve the murder, but to watch a proud woman slowly crumble in captivity at the very time that slaves were being freed on the mainland. Patience's minister (played powerfully by Joe Lee Baker Bay) offers her God's mercy, and Mary Elizabeth Rutkowski as her one White friend visits regularly and tries to find lawyers to help. But serving half of her ten-year sentence after waiting three years for a trial takes an awful toll.

After setting the scene as her cell, Peter Colao's scenery opens like a magic box for the first major confrontation: Patience's second trial (after her original acquittal was set aside). Here Mark Bourbeau for prosecution and Paul Shafer in defense play a tense chess-game, with Robert Runck as the judge being impartially biased in sustaining or over-ruling objections.

Oddly enough, the jailor at this one-room, one-prisoner jail is as incarcerated as she is. Ed Peed, in flowing sideburns and island accents, eloquently handles Uriah Gardner's desire, like his prisoner's, for freedom. Bern Budd and Jeff Gill play a pair of charlatans promising Patience a governor's clemency if she will simply confess to a crime she insists she did not commit. Brian Quint and Jesse Strachman are nervous witnesses for the prosecution. The only representative of Colored Town is one defense witness: Dosha Ellis Beard as Trilona Pompey gets to let her awareness of politics on the island and Patience's integrity explode on the stand --- but of course courts deal in sparse facts, not emotional convictions.

There are references to Lincoln's election, his assassination, and Johnson's reconstruction attempts, which pin the period precisely. However, the story of Patience of Nantucket is a human drama with overtones and situations still relevent to life today.


"Patience of Nantucket" (7 - 23 September)
@ The Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1 (617)427-9417

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide