Corrections or additions?
This review by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on April 21, 1999. All rights reserved.
Review: `Lost Creek’
At a time when some contemporary playwrights are honing
their two-character, one-act dramas down to a mere 40 minutes, playwright
Charlotte Gibson looks back to Shakespeare and Chekhov as models for
her big, sprawling two-and-a-half-hour drama that has a lot to say
about all kinds of people. "Lost Creek Township," now having
its world premiere at Crossroads Theater, through Sunday, May 16,
is Gibson’s multi-character play — part drama, part melodrama
— that paints a sweeping picture of life after Emancipation in
an all-black township in Indiana.
With a self-avowed goal of healing some of the neglected fissures
in African-American history, Gibson’s historical fiction is as American
as apple pie. And this is no slender slice of history she serves up,
but a big wedge of post-Reconstruction life bulging with the fruits
of her research.
The play opens with a tornado that races across the Indiana farmland,
a precursor of the destabilizing events that hit the tiny township
of Lost Creek from every direction during the month of April, 1880.
With the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments, change is in the
air. Ready to exercise their right to vote, blacks are full of hope,
moving northwards by the thousands. Lost Creek is a self-governing,
all-black township, an entity invisible to most and unmentioned by
so many, that has recently (with some help from Toni Morrison’s novel,
"Paradise") re-entered public consciousness. Over the course
of the play we gradually come to know, understand, and care about
12 very different residents of Lost Creek.
Ably directed by Reggie Montgomery, the setting for the action is
Lost Creek’s general store. Like August Wilson’s urban jitney stand,
the general store is a place where townspeople gather and lives unfold.
The tornado that rips off the church roof in the opening scene also
transforms the store into temporary church, shelter, and sick house
for injured neighbors. As the show’s primary setting, the store is
thoroughly pleasing in the verisimilitude of its long, wooden counter
and its stock of preserves, calicoes, and candy jars. Two big, rough-sawn
wooden screens slide across the front of the stage to define a space
for several key outdoor scenes.
In the store we meet the people of Lost Creek. Its proprietors are
Dorothy, played by Elizabeth Van Dyke, and Rupert, played by David
Wolos-Fonteno. Magaly Colimon plays Crystal, Dorothy’s young adult
sister whom she has raised since childhood. Whereas Dorothy and Rupert
are slavery survivors, Crystal has just returned from finishing her
education at a private school in the South and faces a crossroads
in her own life.
The group of Lost Creek townspeople that initially strikes us as fairly
homogeneous, proves as diverse and complicated as any gathering. Some
emerge from comfort, others from the most cruel adversity. Some personalities
have been forged out of necessity, others out of choice. All are now
hit with the reality of a wave of migration from the South by poor
blacks, described by Dorothy as "vagabond Negroes stirring up
trouble." Just who is stirring up the trouble is open to debate,
but everyone’s lives are changed as whites lash out against black
newcomers and farmer citizens alike, even pulling the respected pastor
from his horse and beating him.
At the axis of the action is Noah, a character we do not even meet
until the story is well underway, a "wanderer" of questionable
origins who galvanizes the citizens’ conflicts between righteousness
and self-righteousness. Joseph Edward’s compelling performance keeps
us guessing about the motivations and intent of the Noah (who takes
his single name from the word "no") right up to the play’s
penultimate scene. This is when Edwards performs a cooking lesson
seduction of the well-bred Crystal that will surely go down in the
annals of courtship as a gold medal turn.
Gibson offers other insights into the legacy of slavery. As we’ve
learned of the Holocaust survivors, many raised their children without
ever sharing with them the truth of their bitter experience. In a
similar vein, we see how these former slaves have donned their bonnets,
ankle-length dresses, and button shoes, and adopted a bourgeois lifestyle
and a mindset to match. Some, like Belinda, powerfully portrayed by
Wiyatta Fahnbulleh, are less eager or ready than others to throw off
the passions and beliefs of their ancestors. A lingering animism is
still very much a part of Belinda’s consciousness, as she looks for
answers to her existential questions in the land and in nature. How
to move on from the traumas of the past is a recurrent question. As
one character observes, a pananoia that keeps a person "forever
waking in fear at the sound of horses in the night . . . is a narrow
stingy way to live a life." Hope is essential.
Gibson succeeds in illustrating how her characters rekindle the spirit
of optimism that enables oppressed people to persevere, then and now.
Emblematic of this spirit is Belinda’s young husband Bradley, well-played
by Avery Glymph, a young man intoxicated by the promise of the future
who suffers a succession of crushing adversities, yet who finds the
strength to look to the future with enthusiasm.
Ample comic relief is provided in Lost Creek by Sheyvonne Wright in
her star turn as the self-important busybody, Sister Woman, who assures
the gullible Crystal that "God has a sense of humor." Gena
Bardwell plays the town’s formerly unshakeable midwife, known as the
Reverend Missus; and Helmar Augustus Cooper plays her husband, the
The key to the success of this sprawling story is its gentle pacing:
in Lost Creek, a character drinks a glass of water in the time it
takes to drink a glass of water. This may seem slow to some, yet it
yields its own rewards. The closing scene between Dorothy and an orphaned
child, an artificial, perhaps Greek-inspired resolution to the convoluted
plot, is a difficult one. But here, too, the exchanges between these
two vulnerable, uprooted characters takes as long as it takes. And
Gibson’s audience is fully prepared to stay with them.
— Nicole Plett
Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-249-5560. To Sunday, May 16. $24 to $35.
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