Sunday, November 3, 2013

the road weeps, the well runs dry by Marcus Gardley

the road weeps, the well runs dry by Marcus Gardley

By Joe Straw 

You’re not going to win a race on the backside of a mule.  But that’s all you got, Number Two, so you best make the best of it.  – Narrator.

Artistic Director – José Luis Valenzuela and General Manager – Paul Stuart Graham of The Latino Theater Company presents “the road weeps, the well runs dry” written by Marcus Gardley and directed by Shirley Jo Finney through November 17, 2013.

“the road weeps, the well runs dry” is possibly the show you’ve waited all your life to appreciate, about a visionary tale you thought you’d never see, an animalcule of lives not clarified in the history books.  “the road weeps…” is part myth, part poetry, and most of all a humanistic adventure that will breathe new life into your theatre going experience.  Run! By all means, run and get your tickets.

Number Two (Demetrius Grosse), is a former slave who thinks he is God.  But, not the kind of creator that folks admire.  In fact, the people around him just put up with his antics.  He sits high up in a tree, God-like, overseeing his domain. 

But there’s something wrong about thinking yourself God and having the name, Number Two. Even on a good day, it doesn’t work.  And that is the reason why things don’t sit right with Number Two, and why things “gotta” change.

The setting is Freetown, Indian Territory, what is now known as Wewoka, Oklahoma. Thirty-three years have passed since the forced march of the Trail of Tears and sadly it is the end of the road for those now living in the small like-minded community.  And since the end of the forced march, this town has a mantra: No one cries in Freetown, not now, not ever.

The play begins in the summer of 1850 when two men are engaged in a battle, Number Two and Trowbridge (Darrell Dennis), the town’s sheriff.  When the unspeakable menaces of life turn love into hate.  And, irreversibly, it is the culmination of events that leads to the taking of a life in this dramatic struggle for power.

That struggle is a moment bronzed in time as we move forward to 1866 as Horse Power (Brent Jennings), a town elder and medicine man, tells Wonderful (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) about the journey “33 years ago” of the Trail of Tears, when 203 Black Seminoles arrived here, lost and weak.  He speaks of the night and of the stars that track the course of history that is the lives of the Seminoles.

“There’s no bad history, just a bad way of telling it.”

The stalking Number Two is never far behind his daughter Sweet Tea (Simone Missick).  He finds her alone and warns her to be careful.  Sweet Tea promises to be careful but has no intension of doing so. She leaves to meet with Goodbird (Shaun Taylor-Corbett). Sweet Tea has something important to tell Goodbird but he has only one thing on his mind.  And Sweet Tea never gets around to telling him that she is eight months pregnant.   

Whether or not he knows of Sweet Tea’s condition, Number Two finds Goodbird alone and plunges a wooded pitchfork into his back breaking off a shard.  Undaunted, Number Two throws Goodbird into the dry community well and goes about his business.  

And now the well bleeds, the accumulation of blood and red mud from Goodbird’s wounds.  But only M. Gene (Nakai Secrest) sees the blood and takes it to mean something spiritual. A calling if you will.

“The Lord talks to me, anointed me to be Moses.” – M. Gene

And being the wife to the preacher, Fat Rev (Darrly Alan Reed), M. Gene takes this to mean more as she clutches the bible to her throbbing heart. No one else sees the blood or hears the sounds coming from deep beneath the earth.

But the blood is all too real and the sounds coming from the well are faintly heard by Sweet Tea.  Sweet Tea calls as Goodbird climbs out of the well, barely alive, and dies in her arms.  

Mary South (Elizabeth Frances) finds her daughter crying over Goodbird's body. And trying to help she turns Goodbird over and finds the shard.  And together they take the body away.

Meanwhile, Number Two continues on with his day as though nothing has happened.  He chats with Colorado (Montae Russell), the town’s Cassanova, who spends his time preening his good looks, thinking, and writing about women.

“Can’t work when I’m horny.” – Colorado

And to hear his tale, he is horny all the time.   

Sheriff Trowbridge, unaware of his son’s death, finds everyone loafing and sends them off to work. Seething, Number Two remembers the younger days when he (Matthew Hancock) and younger Trowbridge (Shaun Taylor-Corbett), were testing each other’s metal and physical prowess by hunting bear.  Young Number Two, exercising his superior mental strength, backs down the bear with a stare.    

Later, Mary South, with the pitchfork shard in her hand, tells Number Two that someone has killed Goodbird and almost without hesitation Number Two, holding the broken pitchfork, admits to the killing.

“…making nature with my daughter.” – Number Two

Annoyed by her self righteousness and with his powerful hands, he silences the voice within her, taking her throat and squeezing with little regard for her life as she struggles for another day.  Blinded by his inert fanaticism, he stops short of taking her wretched existence, releasing her neck before she is gone.

Ashamed, Mary South runs to Half George (Monnae Mitchell), a witch, owner of the general store, and Goodbird’s mother, and tells her that her son is dead and that she will do anything to make up for it.

Half George says she wants Sweet Tea’s baby.

The cast features some of the finest performances you will see this year. It is rich in diversity and magnificent in scale.  

Darrell Dennis plays the older Trowbridge and does a fine job. Still something, namely the backstory of his relationship with his counterpart, was missing in his performance.  Later, we learn that it was a romantic relationship with another man, when they were younger. Was it forgotten?  How is that physically displayed in the current day setting of the play? We saw it in the words but not in something physical.  Also, the ghostly apparition, that is he, appears with purpose, but without action, to highlight a moment, a figure from the nether region trying to accomplish something.  The physical relationship with his wife and son needs clarification. Still, not a bad job.

Elizabeth Frances plays Mary South and it is a marvelous performance.  Mary South is Seminole and married to Number Two.  Mary Frances is treated as though she was not smart, and maybe she wasn’t.  But she was smart enough to figure what she needed to do to survive. Frances movements on stage were not wasted, her accent impeccable and her manner for that time period, exquisite. This is one of the grandest performances I’ve seen all year.

Demetrius Grosse is Number Two, a former slave, who is captured by the Seminoles as a young man and lives with them for the remainder of his days. Grosse gives a richly detailed performance of a deplorably insane character torn between his love for his counterpart and wanting to become number one.  Number Two’s moral nihilism gives him free reign.  He is very sinister and will stop at nothing to get what he wants even if it repulses all of those around him. His dark opaque luster hides his misdeeds even though it is the accumulated event that destroys the soul of this man. Grosse is magnificent and this is a performance not to be missed.

Matthew Hancock plays Young Number Two and Potters Clay. Tall, young, and very appealing, Hancock gives and outstanding performance as Young Number Two, a runaway slave, who is captured by the Seminoles.  His counterpart has a “thing” for him and Number Two accepts it in the beginning but, as he gets older, he disavows the relationship as though it was done somewhere else, in the woods, down by the river, with another person. We see the disconnect on stage but really never get the opportunity of why they were a couple, or what drove them apart.

Brent Jennings is Horse Power and gives a marvelous performance.  Although at one time something changed, he lost his hat, became inebriated, as though he were the town drunk. This was not necessarily bad but it was confusing.  Overall Jennings performance was marvelous.  Slight modifications – a little extra spice in his delivery and in the depth of character – would add to a marvelous performance.  

Monnac Michaell was Half George and I was enthralled by her performance. Looking a lot taller with a grey tuff of hair that extended upwardly beyond her head gave her a very distinctive look.  Half George has a button on her community, everyday collecting information from the people who enter her store. She knew the devil and the demons in each one of the town’s folk and was ready to exploit their issues when necessary.  In the course of Half George’s journey she wanted something that was taken away from her and she used all her means to get it. Michaell breathes a lot of depth into the character and gives a very understated, very specific, and remarkable performance.  

Simone Missick plays Sweet Tea, a young woman who falls in love and gets into trouble. Her opening scene with the young man is unforgettable.  She multi-tasking and concerned with her father, her current situation, and the information she needs to convey to her lover.  Sweet Tea has the baby, has it taken away, and comes back with a renewed strength in character. Missick delivers an incredible performance.

Darryl Alan Reed plays Fat Rev, a preacher who knows what he wants but doesn’t know how to get it. He is the bond that holds the community in place, that keeps the wicked from going to extremes, that lives and breaths a kindness and companionship. Reed’s performance is remarkable in many ways.  There are so many things going on in this character that his acting is like a rich full-bodied cup of coffee, in that it is tantalizing, surprising, unexpected, and tastefully poetic. Reed is outstanding.

Montae Russell plays Colorado a man with a licentious doctrine and a libido to match.  He believes that he is a woman’s fantasy and as long as he is able to maintain his desires, they will come to him.  But what about this character makes him so intriguing? The answer is in his poetic charm, the ability to think, and write poetry to bring his ultimate conquest crawling to him. That lasts for a little while until his unfortunate accident and he has to rely on something else. Russell does a fantastic job.  

Nakia Secrest plays M. Gene, a woman with impeccable credentials with the Lord, or so she thinks. Steadfast and strong in her way of thinking that this must be the right way. Secrest has a magnificent voice that shakes the rafters of this theatre and she adds an unqualified special dignity to her character.  This was a very marvelous performance.

Shaun Taylor Corbett as Wonderful and Young Trowbridge creates a grand physical life on stage and filled the characters with youthful experience. But he needed more depth, a sense of self, action and reaction.  The bear-hunting scene didn’t appear to change the relationship with his counterpart. It’s there for a reason and needs a slight modification.

Shirley Jo Finney, the director, does a marvelous job with the actors. She moves them with great finesses and the relationships work splendidly. But one wonders if the story could be taken to grander heights if some of the relationships were fined tuned, especially the physical, emotional, and romantic relationship between Young Number Two and Young Trowbridge. That relationship did not propel us into their epic battle later in life. Also the emotional and physical relationship between Half George and Trowbridge as man and wife appeared to be a non-existent. She was off on her own doing her pagan activities and running the general store, and he was running around and being the town’s sheriff. There is hardly any bonding even after their son’s death.  These are only minor adjustments for a production that hit most of the right notes. 

Marcus Gardley has written a marvelous play and with all this richness would also make a very fine movie.  It is at times poetry, a sonnet for the Freedmen.  It is a song for the people who suffered the miserable indignities of a forced march. And in its exquisite brilliance, it is a history brought forward about a people who live and breathe and love and hate. Just like the rest of us. 

The exceptional crew is as follows:

Scenic Design – Fererica Nascimento
Lighting & Projection Design – Pablo Santiago
Original Music & Sound Design – Bruno Louchouarn
Costume Design – Naila Aladdin Sanders
Prop Master – Jonathan Mansk
Vocal Coach – Brenda Lee Eager
Casting Director – Chemin Sylvia Bernard
Technical Director – Wayne Nakasone
Wardrobe Assistant – David Rosales
Projections Assistant – Meghan Mitchell
Production Manager – Rita Lilly
Assistant Stage Manager – Julian Fernandez
Stage Manager – Henry “Heno” Fernandez
Choreography – Ameenah Kaplan
Dramaturg – Nakissa Etemad

Run!  Run! And take someone who needs another perspective of our nation’s history.

RESERVATIONS: (866) 811-4111.

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