The heart of Keith Glover’s new play beats with anger as he looks at continuing slavery in the post-Civil War South. The time of the play may be then , but the temper is now, so high in temper that it damages coherence and the power native to the material.
Slavery is not to be underestimated as a dramatic subject, but Glover overreaches in his treatment of his central figure, Crixus (Charles Weldon). He is the noble savage of black history, a powerful boxer who, fearing that whites will always triumph, withholds his might in order not to fight — until, in a climactic battle with Hurricane (Bill Christ), who symbolizes the fallen white South, Crixus’ anger boils over, sealing his doom.
Crixus is a passive figure, held in slavery, robbed of his wife and children by evil whites, slow to know his love for Kazarah (Cynthia Ruffin), yet a man who lives in smoldering fury. His passivity is a major flaw in the drama.
Glover’s writing is over-rich in dialogue, which too often goes in circles and provides little insight into characters, who do not communicate with one another so much as deliver speeches. The play moves like a slow freight train, with sudden jolts and runaway wrecks in the final scenes. Several scenes, though emotionally intense, lack the sense of inevitability that would support the tragic quality Glover is striving toward.
Director Israel Hicks can be blamed for stressing the superficiality of the characters, thereby isolating them. Performing styles range in all directions.
Weldon signals Crixus’ fury but uses a deep vocal register that does not project. He is a commanding figure despite the passivity of the role.
As Shadow Jack, Ray Aranha puts his remarkable vocal range on show with disastrous results, playing with his lines like Lionel Barrymore at his melodramatic zenith. Again, the writing of his role is excessive, an invitation to dramatic extravagance.
Christopher Birt’s Jamaican Cayman comes to the scene as though to an opera first night, in white tie and tails. A victim of directorial whimsy, his accent ranges from semi-authentic to Irish brogue and pidgin English.
Christ makes a fine Hurricane, tall enough to skim the rafters, with arms long enough to keep boxers at a distance. A scene between Hurricane and Crixus is a highlight of the play, revealing characters with subtlety.
Ruffin’s Kazarah is a beguiling, affectionate presence, speaking in a lovely, clear voice.
Count Stovall, as a self-serving black, stands for compromise in Glover’s dramatic world, and he brings definite flair to his playing. William Denis and Roderick Arid limn different extremes of white behavior, one a foolish, the other belligerent.
The big boxing match, pre-1886 style, with no holds barred, is superbly set by fight director David S. Leong in an engrossing and visceral piece of theater.
Vicki Smith’s crude flooring is ideal for the free-form presentation, novel when the flooring opens up for set pieces to ascend from stage depths. Charles McLeod’s lighting is expert, though director Hicks makes portentous use of his skills.