Category Archive for: ‘Go See’

Native Son blasts onto the stage at Marin Theatre

Dane Troy, Ryan Nicole Austin, C. Kelly Wright, Jerod Haynes and William Hartfield. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Dane Troy, Ryan Nicole Austin, C. Kelly Wright, Jerod Haynes and William Hartfield. Photo by Kevin Berne.

NATIVE SON: Drama by Nambi E. Kelley. Adapted from the novel by Richard Wright. Directed by Seret Scott. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley, CA. 415-388-5208 or www.marintheatre.org.    January 19 – February 12, 2017

Native Son blasts onto the stage at Marin Theatre Rating: ★★★★★

For their third production of their 50th season Marin Theatre Company (MTC) has unflinchingly staged the play version of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son that was written 75 years ago and maintains its relevance today. The first theatrical version of this powerful novel was written by the author and Paul Green and produced and directed by Orson Welles on Broadway in 1941with Canada Lee in the role of Bigger Thomas. Whereas that production was a sprawling linear version of the novel, MTC’s production is a brilliant non-linear expressionistic adaptation packed into a powerful 90 minutes that had most of the audience giving it a standing ovation.

This present version had its world premiere in 2014 at the Court Theatre in Chicago under the direction of Seret Scott starring Jerod Hayes as Bigger Thomas.  MTC has brought them both to the West Coast to reprieve their Chicago roles. They do not disappoint earning accolades for their efforts.

In Nambi E. Kelley’s script she uses a brilliant touch of anthropomorphism by visualizing the dead black rat in human form and is given dialog to verbalize Bigger’s thoughts and motivations. This device adds depth to the physical action carrying the plot forward that includes most of the novel’s storyline. Director Scott adds to the dichotomy of Whites versus Black by staging most of the scenes for the Whites on stage left and for the Blacks on stage right with the central raised area for their interaction.

After a perfunctory prolog the play opens in the rat infested one room “home” of the Thomas family that includes Bigger, Mother Hannah (C. Kelly Wright), daughter Vera (Ryan Nicole Austin) and younger brother Buddy (Dane Troy). As in the novel a huge rat is viciously killed by Bigger with a frying pan suggesting his streak of violence. At this point The Black Rat is humanized becoming Bigger’s mind if not his conscience.

Bigger has ambition and desires to rise above his sordid surroundings. When he is given a job as chauffer for the rich white Dalton family who own shares in the slum dwellings there is hope for a better life. It is not to be when rich spoiled daughter Mary (Rosie Hallet) and her communist boyfriend Jan (Adam Magill) enter his life that he takes a monumental fall when he accidentally murders Mary.

What happens next is gruesome and not for the faint of heart and the staging makes no attempt to soften the harsh truth of anti-negro sentiment of 1940’s Chicago that is partially still present today emphasizing that “Black Lives Matter.”

The initial act of murder leads inexorably to Bigger’s second murder of his girlfriend Bessie (Ryan Nicole Austin) and he being hounded like a dog. The introduction of Britten (Patrick Kelly Jones) as a super cruel racists cop who leads the search and capture of Bigger is violently staged emphasizing police brutality at its worst. Author Kelley has judiciously edited the text without losing a single aspect of the book even though she has removed the final chapter that includes the trial.   Seret Scott directs her brilliant cast with great understanding intermingling relatively quiet passages with controlled and uncontrolled violence.

Jerod Hayes is a power to be reckoned with and your heart will reach out to him in the ultimate scene where he is forced to look at his bare torso in a mirror knowing that he trapped within his black skin. William Hartfield as The Black Rat does not match up to his very pivotally role. C. Kelly Wright’s role as the heart broken mother is matched by Ryan Nicole Austin’s double role as she morphs from the teenaged Vera into the street smart Bessie and Rosie Hallet as Mary.

MTC’s production standards are at their best in this play. It is a relatively bare bones stage with open wooden wall studs holding a series of stairs with atmospheric lighting and sounds adding depth to the directing and acting. Running time is a tense 90 minutes and it is Highly Recommended.

CAST: Jerod Haynes as Bigger, Rosie Hallet as Mary, William Hartfield as The Black Rat, Adam Magill as Jan, C. Kelly Wright as Hannah, Dane Troy as Buddy, Ryan Nicole Austin as Vera/Bessie, Courtney Walsh as Mrs. Dalton, and Patrick Kelly Jones as Britten.

ARTISTIC STAFF: Directed by Seret Scott, Scenic Designer, Giulio Cesare Perrone ; Lighting Designer, Marc Stubblefield; Costume Designer, Melissa Torchia,; Sound Designer, Joshua Horvarth; Dialect Coach, Jessica Berman, Stage Manager, Sean McStravick; Prop Master, Lizabeth Stanley; Casting Director, Dori Jacob; Dramaturg, Laura A. Brueckner ; Assistant Costume Designer, Katherine Nowacki.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

Dane Troy (Buddy), Ryan Nicole Austin (Vera), C. Kelly Wright (Hannah), Jerod Haynes (Bigger), William Hartfield (The Black Rat) Photo credit: Kevin Berne

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