Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Race"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark


by Jamie Pachino
Based on the book by Studs Terkel Directed by Darren Evans

Set Design by Audra Avery
Lighting Design by Eric Jacobsen
Costume Design by Frances Nelson McSherry
Sound Design by Darren Evans
Box Office Manager Brooke DiGiovanni Evans
House Manager Sarah Entenmann
Producer Darren Evans
Assistant Stage Manager Carl Danielson
Stage Manager Belina Mizrahi


Ann Carpenter
Dee Crawford
Claude Del
Justin Dilley
Kate Donnelly
Ron Jones
Alejandro Simoes
Robin JaVonne Smith
Phil Thompson

How often have you gone to a play and noticed that a Black person was sitting next to you?
Last Sunday at the Charlestown Working Theatre, the woman who had just played Emmet Till's mother and described his ordeal, her face still streaming tears, came down off the stage and took a seat next to me. I decided not to risk breaking her concentration, but my impulse was to throw an arm around her shoulder in sympathy. Jamie Pachino's edit and re-arrangement of quotations from Studs Terkel's book of interviews isn't Exactly a play, nor a docudrama, nor a lecture --- but nine Black/White/Hispanic people, each taking dozens of roles from all possible points of view, let all our embarrassing American dirty-laundry hang out for an airing. At the end the cast is walking past each other in concentric circles and, as they meet, hurling sticks-and-bones words at one another --- tooth-clenched words like Kraut, Spic, Wop, Wetback, Honkie --- and, of course, Nigger. But, after these clear-eyed snapshots of who we are, it's possible to remember that, over and over again in this flaming pot, there have been voices raised in tolerance, sympathy, harmony and understanding. Like the country, the production refuses to linger long on any point. I think, though, that the fact it exists at all means there's an unquenchable glow of hope in the very ashes of conflict.

The action here gets played out mainly on a sort of square donut of raised platforms, with audience both ringing the stage and seated inside it. The actors often walk in those concentric circles, with words or phrases popping out in all directions, then merge into seats with the audience while someone or other takes a soliloquy. Emmet Till's mother refusing to hate his acquitted murderers, and an ex-Clansman admitting all he wanted was to Be Somebody (and feels better as an inter-racial committeeman) were two that moved me most. But, of course, everyone in the cast is someone else a moment later. Periodically Eric Jacobsen's lights dim to black, as though signalling a new subject, or opening another chapter. Each sitting on two wired-together milk crates, the spectators are about chin-level with the stage, and lines and action explode everywhere --- sometimes with actors standing behind chain-link fences at both ends of the space, sometimes standing or sitting in corners of the square donut, sometimes seated with the audience itself. It is, after all, ourselves that are on display here.

Director Darren Evans has seen to it that everyone in his cast, no matter what their race, shows dozens of different faces throughout the show. His aim is to provoke thought. I mean, he didn't christen his company THEATRE ON FIRE for nothing, right?

( a k a larry stark )

"Race" (19 January - 3 February)
Charlestown Working Theatre, 442 Bunker Hill Street, BOSTON MA
1 (866)811-4111 1(617)642-9439

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