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REVIEWS FOR R+J: AN UNCIVIL TALE

Ryan Leeds for Manhattan Digest:

Earlier this year, Rebel Theater Company mounted a massive production entitled Black Footnotes which chronicled the lives of African-American women doctors who made great contributions, but whose names were erased from the history books. Read the review here: http://www.manhattandigest.com/2015/02/14/theater-review-black-footnotes/

 

The play consisted of a cast of 28 members, quite a large feat  for such a small space. It ran at Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe. Rebel theater has returned to the famed performance space, where a current, large scale re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is afoot

Writers Adam Mace and Kaitlyn Schirard have now enlisted 30 actors, and have placed the famous tale of young romance during the height of the Civil War in 1863 Kentucky.  Juliet (Julia Boyes) hails  from the wealthy Capulet family while Romeo (Jordane Christie) is from the former slave house of Montague. Once, he and his family had worked for the Capulets, but they were sold to an abolitionist who set them free.  In true lover’s fashion, love binds them together, much to the dismay of both families.

 

To set the piece  during the most challenging time of our nation’s history is both thoughtful and appropriate.In the program notes, director Adam Mace tips his hat to Abraham Lincoln (also timely, given the fact that we commemorate his assassination this month).  After Romeo murders one of the Capulets in a brawl, his mentor, Reverend Laurence (Christian Lee Branch) unleashes a fiery sermon to parishioners. “I don’t understand is how the Lord can allow such hate to be in our world today. To allow our brothers and sisters to be beaten, sold, tortured, and killed!”, he says.  Sadly, the words could be delivered from a contemporary pulpit. Mace  expresses the fact that the story far exceeds the confines of romance, but rather, reflects the state of a nation.

 

Christie and Boyes create fiery passion and Adiagha Faizah is particularly touching as Mama Opal, Juliet’s slave. The supporting ensemble are in top form.

Those great thinkers  included  Dr.Eliza Ann Grier,an emancipated slave who, in 1898 became the first African-American Woman in Georgia to study medicine. Her education spanned 7 years due to the fact that she alternated each year of study by picking cotton in order to pay for it. Ebony Obsidian, Mariah Ralph, Kezia Tyson, and Ashanti Acosta each play this obstetrician who died of a tragic and premature death in 1902. Her contribution would be “found in the minds, hearts, and scalpel of every Negro woman who earned the right to call herself, ‘Doctor” in these here United States.”

 

Occasionally, Mace’s script is a bit heavy handed and wrought with too many histrionics. Once the scale is tipped towards the highest level of dramatics, there is little room to build tension. Still, he should be commended for the fine work that he and his assistant director, Najah Muhammad create. It is a joy to watch this theater company evolve, develop, and generate crucial conversations with their provocative works.

 

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