Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review: JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE

Toby Zinman found this a fine, strong production of August Wilson's powerful play, JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE.

Review: JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE

By Toby Zinman
FOR THE INQUIRER

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is a big, strong, juicy play, and Plays & Players’ production is just as big, strong and juicy. Representing the second decade in August Wilson’s “Century Cycle,”  Joe Turner takes place a hundred years ago in 1911, a suitable choice for Plays & Players theater’s 100th anniversary. While the building may be old, the company is new, led by Daniel Student, who is rapidly proving himself a young director of range and vision.

Joe Turner was the brother of a governor of Tennessee who arbitrarily seized black men off the streets and forced them to work as slave labor for seven years. Herald Loomis (the excellent Kash Goins) , the mysterious, half-destroyed visionary figure at the center of Joe Turner, has spent three years since being freed walking with his young daughter Zonia (Lauryn Jones), searching for his wife. They arrive at a Pittsburgh boarding house -- the perfect locale to represent the comings and goings of the Northern Migration — run by the practical Seth Holly (James Tolbert) and his comforting wife, Bertha (Cherie Jazmyn). 

The other residents are a hoodoo man named Bynam (the thrilling Damien Wallace) who can bind people with a song and spell; Jeremy, a hotshot country bumpkin (Jamal Douglas); Mattie, a sweet, often-betrayed woman (Candace Thomas); Molly, beautiful and dangerous (Mle Chester). There is a boy (Brett Gray) next door, who befriends Zonia, and a traveling peddler (Bob Weick), the “people finder” who is the grandson of slave traders. 

Their lives briefly intersect — as they would in a week-to-week boarding house — mingling romance and business and desperation and pain and storytelling. The play powerfully suggests significance far beyond the plot: In the vision Herald Loomis sees of bones walking on the water and of people “shaking hands and saying goodbye to each other and walking every whichaway down the road,” Wilson give us the Middle Passage, to slavery, to the diaspora, to freedom.

The play lays down a solid layer of mundane detail — lots of biscuit eating and coffee drinking and dish washing — allowing the extraordinary to stand out, especially the terrific Juba scene –wild, African-derived dancing after Sunday night’s fried chicken dinner. The interesting set designed by Lance Kniskern is, suitably, half realistic, half suggestive, allowing the mysticism to mingle with the commonplace.

Plays & Players Mainstage,1714 Delancey Place. Through Feb. 4. Tickets $25-$30. Information: www.playsandplayers.org or 800-595-4849.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

Philly Stage
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected