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By |2004-01-22T09:00:00-05:00January 22nd, 2004|Uncategorized|
Legacy of internal racism examined in fine drama at Detroit Rep

Every so often theatergoers are treated to an amazing production that is teeming with delightful contradictions.
Few would argue that the subject matter of “Yellowman,” an excellent drama now playing at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, is bleak and ugly, yet playwright Dael Orlandersmith brings her Pulitzer Price-nominated story to life with lyrical words and poetic imagery. It’s a script that is thoroughly engaging, yet occasionally unpleasant; it’s populated with characters that are fully human, but often behave in inhumane ways.
It also asks the following question: Is each new generation doomed to repeat the sins and failures of its elders?
That’s a question many playwrights have addressed over the centuries, of course – with Shakespeare’s grand tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet,” the most famous – but few have tackled the issue with such brutal honesty as Orlandersmith.
In “Yellowman,” it’s not a long-simmering feud between two families that gets in the way of young love; instead, it’s the legacy of racism – particularly between light and dark skinned blacks – that haunts this beautifully scripted play.
Destiny is cemented when seven-year-old Alma and nine-year-old Eugene meet in a South Carolina schoolyard sometime in the mid-1960s. To a casual outsider they are nothing more than two young black children who laugh and play just like children do all across America.
To the residents of their rural community, however, they might as well be from two different worlds: Alma is a dark-skinned girl who lives on the outskirts of town with her single mother in a house without indoor plumbing, while Eugene is “high yellow,” a light-skinned youth who lives a more privileged life in a fancy house with both his parents.
There is no love lost between these two groups: The dark-skinned residents resent the yellows for what they perceive is an easier life, whereas the high yellows believe they’ve had to work harder than their counterparts in order to make a better life for themselves.
Prejudice and racism, it seems, are not the exclusive property of any one particular ethnic group!
As Alma and Eugene grow up and their friendship matures, the long-held biases they face grow stronger. Can love and the desire to better oneself triumph over intra-racial hatred? Or will the perpetual cycle of mistrust and anger claim yet another generation?
One of the unique aspects of “Yellowman” is its very foundation. This is not a play with dialogue, but rather a story told through splendidly constructed monologues. Each of the two main characters takes turns telling their parts of the story; as other characters are needed, they simply change their voices and mannerisms and integrate them into the tale.
Such a concept is not easy to execute; it requires careful staging and highly talented actors. The Detroit Rep scores well on both counts!
Making his professional directorial debut is Tim Edward Rhoze who got his start 25 years ago as an actor at the Rep. One would never suspect that a first-time director with numerous stage, film and television credits staged this engaging production. It is beautifully paced, with fine attention paid to the details Orlandersmith built into her script. He also makes great use of Bruce Millan’s imaginative set.
Bernard Owens, Jr. breathes life into the role of Eugene. He is equally believable as the wide-eyed youth on the playground as he is the enraged young man who can’t endure his father’s taunts any longer. Owens’ secondary characters are also well-delineated; he easily slides from one to another without ever losing focus.
Cecilia Foreman gives one of the finest performances yet this season as Alma. For years, Alma has been ridiculed by her mother, believing that she is both fat and ugly for being dark-skinned. Foreman is amazing to watch as Alma discovers otherwise, only to have her hopes dashed when life takes an unexpected turn.
There are only a few minor flaws with this otherwise exquisite production: Both Owens and Foreman need to pause briefly whenever the audience reacts – expectedly or not – to something that happens on stage, otherwise much of their subsequent lines are lost amidst the noise; and upstage lights might need to be reset, as actors occasionally walk in and out of slightly annoying dark spots.
“Yellowman” Presented Thursday through Sunday by the Detroit Repertory Theatre, 13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit, through March 21. Tickets: $17. 313-868-1347. http://www.detroitreptheatre.com.
The Bottom Line: A rare treat – a brutally honest look at an uncomfortable subject make for a splendid, yet thoughtful, evening of theater.

Major stars to headline ‘The Exonerated’ at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre

DETROIT – The critically acclaimed hit off Broadway play, “The Exonerated,” scheduled to appear at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre Feb. 24 – March 14, will feature Mia Farrow, Robert Carradine, Carol Kane, Eric Roberts and Lynn Redgrave in rotating roles.
“The Exonerated” is a drama based on the real life stories of death-row prisoners who were subsequently found innocent and freed by the state.
The award-winning play began its journey over the summer of 2000, when married authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen traveled across the United States, interviewing 40 of the (then) 89 former death row prisoners. The interviewees were from vastly different ethnic, religious and educational backgrounds; their views on the world varied greatly. The only thing they had in common was that all 40 had been sentenced to death. They spent anywhere from two to 22 years on death row and were subsequently found innocent and freed by the state.
The rotation schedule for the Detroit engagement of “The Exonerated” will be Mia Farrow and Robert Carradine, Feb. 24 – 29; Carol Kane and Eric Roberts, March 2 – 7; and, Lynn Redgrave and Eric Roberts, March 9 – 14.
Ticket prices for the Detroit engagement of “The Exonerated” range from $30 – $50 and may be purchased at all Ticketmaster outlets. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 248-645-6666, at www.ticketmaster.com or at the Fisher Theatre Box Office.
For additional information, call 313-872-1000 or visit http://www.nederlanderdetroit.com.

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