Jefe's House

Tag: Brett Gray

Philly Inquirer sez Joe Turner Rocks

by on Jan.26, 2012, under The Sixth Boro, Theatre

A hoodoo man and a searcher: Damien Wallace (left) and Kash Goins, who meet at a boardinghouse. (DREW HOOD / Throwing Light Photography)

‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’: A tale of searching, tinged with mysticism

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; it’s led by Daniel Student, who is rapidly proving himself a young director of range and vision.

Joe Turner – brother of Pete Turner, a late-19th-century governor of Tennessee – arbitrarily seized black men off the streets and forced them into slave farm labor for periods of 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 the wife who vanished while he was captive. They arrive at a Pittsburgh boardinghouse – 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); and 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 boardinghouse – 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 dishwashing – 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.

Get your tickets here.

 

 

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Joe Turner’s In This Town

by on Jan.16, 2012, under The Sixth Boro, Theatre

Excited to report that August Wilson’s masterful Joe Turner’s Come and Gone opens on the mainstage of Plays & Players this Thursday, January 19th. The play is set in 1911, the same year Plays & Players was founded, which is part of the reason for its inclusion in our 100th anniversary season.  It’s also included because it’s a smart and powerful play, and because it’s part of our mission statement to bring greater diversity to Philadelphia’s theatre scene.

Wilson took the title from the old blues song Joe Turner, my favorite version of which is the one by Mississippi John Hurt:

They tell me Joe Turner’s in this town
They tell me Joe Turner’s in this town
He’s a man I hate, I don’t want him hangin’ around.

The song is about Joe Turney, aka Joe Turner, a real-life kidnapper of blacks during the Jim Crow South after the Civil War.  I quote liberally from usprisonculture.com:  “In the late 19th century, a man named Joe Turney became well-known in the South. He was the brother of Pete Turney who was the governor of Tennessee. Joe Turney had the responsibility of taking black prisoners from Memphis to the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. It is said that Joe would make a habit of distributing some of the prisoners to convict farms along the Mississippi River, where employers paid commissions to obtain laborers.

“According to Leon F. Litwack in his terrific book Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow:  ‘Most of the prisoners had been rounded up for minor infractions, often when police raided a craps game set up by an informer; after a perfunctory court appearance, the blacks were removed, usually the same day, and turned over to Turney. He was reputed to have handcuffed eighty prisoners to forty links of chain. When a man turned up missing that night in the community, the word quickly spread, ‘They tell me Joe Turner’s come and gone.’ Family members were left to mourn the missing (p.270).

“Joe Turney was the embodiment of the convict leasing system. ”

Set in a boarding house in Pittsburgh’s predominantly black Hill district during the Great Migration, this is a play about the search for identity, family and home after centuries of slavery.  It is at times heartbreaking, hilarious, musical and entertaining. In 1911 as emancipated slaves move north in search of employment and a chance to start over, Seth and Bertha Holly’s boarding house offers a new place to call home. Their routines are shaken when an angry and lost man arrives looking for his wife whom he hasn’t seen for years after he was captured and put in a chain gang by Joe Turner.  They are all forced to confront their own demons and come together to help the lost stranger find his way.

Don’t miss it. Get your tickets here.

Plays & Players Presents:
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson
Directed by Daniel Student
Starring Kash Goins, Damien Wallace, James Tolbert, Cherie Jazmyn, Jamal Douglas, Candace Thomas, Mlé Chester, Bob Weick, Lauryn Jones, Brett Gray, and Erin Stewart

 

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