Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of Dreamgirls
An initial arresting, enticing scene finds Boseman Salvage Junior (Taylor A. Blackman) shoveling snow off the stage apron. B Entsminger's striking set design includes a visual mountain of snow pictured behind Junior. A wannabe actor who is now home in Chicago, off the Belmont L stop, Junior is balletic as he deals with the snow. This is a young Black man who works at a restaurant and, every so often, recites Edmund's lines from King Lear. Sometimes, during downtime at work, he converses with high-energy, unafraid waitress Paulina Kenston (Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew). She is both audacious and appealing.
Boseman Salvage Senior (Julian Elijah Martinez) is Junior's combative father. He wants the best for his son but hasn't any finesse to his existence. Boseman is still on decent terms with his former wife Nedra (Toni Martin), a postal worker who has demons of her own. Elinor DeWitt (McKenzie Chinn) is taken with Boseman after he (a locksmith by trade) opens a door for her.
It takes a while to discern what goes on and what the implications are during the first portion of this increasingly stirring drama. Rivers's characters are anything but simplistic. For example, Paulina seems to be a wisecracking, funny, uninhibited young woman, but she also has a Shakespearean vocabulary of her own and trades dialogue with Junior. Nedra, too, is a woman of multiple emotions. She does love her son and that shines through.
Junior and his father (call him either Senior or Boseman) have what appears to be a competitive hate/hate relationship–that is, until they do not. This production requires physical dexterity and actors Blackman and Martinez, men of strength, are up to the required tasks.
Multidimensional Elinor, who works as a substitute teacher, is authentically drawn to Boseman. She tries to reach this complicated, genuine, seemingly hardened soul–but that is a challenge.
Taylor A. Blackman's Junior is the focal point of the play and the role requires malleability of both mind and body. Living in an apartment with his father, Junior, with a college degree and some theatre experience, is now employed at a restaurant where he smokes cigarettes when he can. He's smart, troubled, and desperate to find his way. The audience will root for him, perhaps forgiving Junior for his sometimes sharp and unkind words. Blackman pulls it all together through passionate performance.
Director Mikael Burke captures the intensity of Rivers's words and deftly coaches five talented actors through nearly two hours (without intermission) of captivating live performance. Projection designer Stan Mathabane's many images, which appear to the rear, both enhance and help to explicate the plot.
New England theatregoers might recall that both TheaterWorks in Hartford and the Williamstown Theatre Festival, during the past several years, have produced Harrison David Rivers's plays.
The Yale Rep presentation finds the writer delivering a potent, influential, and very full script. It all takes a bit of time to congeal but, as the show evolves, it becomes incrementally moving. It's almost impossible not to believe in these people because the actors' identification with the characters is undeniably infectious. Moreover, this couple of hours encourages audience members to empathize with the given culture from the moment actor Blackman gracefully tosses snow around and then dances with his shovel. That very first sequence is memorable.
The Salvagers runs through December 16, 2023, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven CT. For tickets and information, please call 203-432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.