Review: Dennis Sparks on pen/man/ship

NOTE: Mr. Sparks' review runs here as he intended for publication on his website, but his blog manager is out of the country and having difficulty posting anything online. Mr. Sparks assures us the review will be on his site by the weekend.

Between the Light and the Dark

England, during a time in their history, decided to not take up any more resources from the Motherland for undesirables, like prisoners, and so shipped them off to Australia/New Zealand. “Out of sight, out of mind.” But that, in the long run, might have been a blessing, as those individuals eventually settled there and, with their descendants, began a whole new society.

In 1896, some prominent white businessmen also decided to experiment with this idea and sent a ship to Liberia, along the coast of Africa, to see if such a similar colony could be set up there. Although the ship did have a Captain and a crew (Charles Grant, Tonea Lolin and Tamera Lynn), the main developer was a free, black businessman, a reverend, Charles Boyd (Adrian Roberts). Although a stalwart individual, he was also wrestling with some personal demons of his own. Also, on the trip, is his son, Jacob (DeLance Minefee), a dutiful child but developing a mind of his own.

Charles finds solace in the scriptures and also with one of the crewman, an outspoken, accordion player, Cecil (Vin Shambry), who has a certain earthy wisdom which Charles finds refreshing. It should have been a routine trip but an unexpected element has been added, a woman, an escaping slave from the South, a proud lady named Ruby (Andrea Whittle). And, if that isn’t enough to stir things up a bit, his son is smitten with her.

As the journey progresses, so do relationships, the discovery of the true nature of the trip and heated emotions. Things are bound to come to a head, and they do, and by the end, lives will be changed. I can’t tell you more without spoiling the story. But a thought to leave you with, it is said that the universe began with a bang and, if so, then it is not unreasonable that “a brave new world” here on Earth would not start the same way, with beings being unceremoniously thrust into it.

Four actors on an essentially bare stage (with, admittedly, some amazing set/prop pieces) must hold your attention for two hours and they do, as their powerful performances and this riveting story would be enough to hold my attention for much longer than that. It goes back to the story-telling way of presenting a play, which is still the purest form of theatre, in my opinion. Now, add to that, the clever addition of a billowing sail and a liquid floor and you have the makings of an exciting, innovative drama to partake in.

Director Lucie Tiberghien has chosen well her cast and she makes the most of the intimate space and nature of the play. There are times I actually felt the cold wind that the cast was to be feeling. And the set by Kris Stone and lighting by Solomon Weisbard are truly assets to the production. And, as mentioned, the cast is solid. It should be noted that the part of Ruby (Whittle) is enacted by a student who was part of their Apprenticeship program, which proves it can provide a path to bigger and better roles in the future.

And it’s always good to see Shambry, a seasoned, local professional, continuing in creating some memorable roles. Roberts and Minefee are welcome additions and add greatly to this searing story.

I recommend this play. You might want to check out their website for more information on the Apprenticeship program and on the fundraising efforts to reconstruct this space, as to how you can contribute. If you do see this show, please tell them Dennis sent you.