Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Sister Act
The play takes place in Seth Holly's boarding house, bringing together a disparate group of black men and women. Bynum Walker, a conjurer, provides a glimpse into one of Wilson's favorite themes, the supernatural and black people's relationship with it. Herald Loomis, on the road looking for his wife who came north while he was enslaved by the titular Joe Turner, reveals how vulnerable to abuse the race remained in 1911, almost 50 years after the end of slavery. Several women reveal the economic reality for their gender. This blends with a very fine production of Intimate Apparel seen at this theater last year. Joe Turner's Come and Gone is not one of Wilson's best plays; it does not really come into focus during the first act and while there are several really powerful scenes in act two, it still has an entire scene that I find mostly superfluous.
Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, a last minute replacement during tech week, plays Bynum and was still on book at the performance I attended. The performance is a strong one and will get much stronger when he can conquer the script. The part is a long one. Calvin M. Thompson creates a mysterious aura as Herald Loomis. Once he begins to reveal his horrific past in the second act, the audience can start to connect with him. Kim Sullivan is excellent as Seth, opposite Fanni Green as his wife Bertha, the quintessential earth mother. I could imagine her in several iconic roles for black women, especially Queenie in Show Boat. Satchel Andre plays Jeremy, a young working man. Jemier Jenkins plays Molly, a young woman with past heartache, Cindy De La Cruz is Mattie, looking for a man to take care of her, and Alexandria Crawford plays Martha Loomis Pentecost. Richard B. Watson is Selig, the only white character in the play and one of the few in the entire cycle. Two children's roles are shared: Bianca Rivera-Irions and Shelby Ronea (seen at this performance) share the role of Loomis' daughter Zonia; and Elijah Dixon and Tyrese Pope (seen) share the role of neighbor Reuben.
When a production is badly out of focus, and this one is, it is hard to assess blame. I do believe the script itself is problematic but director L. Peter Callender, who last year delivered an excellent Jitney, does not direct with a strong hand here. The acting is uneven, several of the lesser roles are only adequately taken. Strong assets of the production are the scenic design of Scott Cooper, who has provided several rooms, with nicely period wallpaper, clearly indicating that they have been lived in and that finances are perhaps a little strained; costume design by Frank Chavez that clearly indicate the period, although one suit worn by Kim Sullivan has made a few too many appearances in these productions in the past; and lighting design by Joseph P. Oshry who always knows how to project the supernatural within a stage production.
Congratulations to American Stage for staging all of August Wilson's Century Cycle plays. This is no mean feat, all of the plays require large casts and make great technical demands on a theater. By and large the productions have been of high quality. In my opinion, Seven Guitars previously and now Joe Turner's Come and Gone do not stand alone as well as several others such as The Piano Lesson, Fences and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom which show up with much more regularity. Jitney, Two Trains Running and Radio Golf are strong entries in the series as well. I hope audiences will rush to Joe Turner's Come and Gone; even flawed, it is important theater.
Joe Turner's Come and Gone at American Stage through February 19, 2017, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Director: L. Peter Callender**