Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! – the cry of the July 14, 1789 French Revolution. Two years later this same cry for freedom was used during a successful slave revolt on Haiti, making that island country the first black nation.
Poet Laureate emeritus Rita Dove brings this watchword to 1822 Charleston, South Carolina, in her play “The Darker Face of the Earth.” This retelling of Oedipus Rex among the magnolias is a powerful drama of slavery, unknown incest and revolution.
When Amalia, the plantation’s mistress gives birth to Augustus, a son of color, Louis, the master, orders him destroyed. However, the local doctor talks the husband into selling the infant instead. Twenty years later Louis’ decision comes back to haunt him in the form of a man-grown revolutionary who not only can read and write, but incites the other slaves to revolt while he entertains Amalia at the big house.
“The Darker Face of the Earth” is without a doubt one of the best productions Pierce College has mounted in several years.
Overcoming casting and technical problems, guest director Kibibi Monie has done a fine job with this production. The dichotomy of action during the birth of Augustus in the first act is eloquently choreographed with frozen tableaus on the half of the stage not animated in the telling of the story – the slaves juxtaposed against big house folk.
Likewise, Fred Metzger’s set design is superlative. Closing off the two side sections of the theatre, Metzger uses every inch of open space to create the house, out buildings and grounds of an antebellum plantation & complete with cotton fields.
Not only is “Darker Face” a strong piece, the cast is diverse and, for the most part, all turn in good performances & a few outstanding.
From the big house: Breann Walker plays the bitter Amalia with seeming ease. Steve Casowitz is husband Louis; he offers a bit of comic relief, ever searching the heavens from the bottom of a hip flask for – what – other life? Blake York doubles as both the doctor and Jones, the overseer. As usual, he does a good job offering a bit of humor to the audience as the slovenly taskmaster who would rather nap than badger his charges to work harder. Syreeta Cunningham is the house slave, Ticey. She also nicely narrates the progression of the story much like a Greek chorus.
From the fields and beyond: Harvey Brooks is poetic as the Conspirator who recruits Augustus into revolution. Sharon York makes a competent acting debut as Scipio.
Twelve-year-old Taelin Lanier is the youthful slave Diana, proving that slavery knew no age limits. A bit of a theatre veteran for one so young, Lanier is at ease on stage and performs very well. Alan Bouwman is Augustus, the learned slave who heads the revolt. He holds his own with more experienced actors.
Marcus Young is his father, Hector, who was driven mad when he thought his son was killed. Not only is Young one of the stronger members of the cast, he also sings beautifully. Gary Clark-Pinkney is Alexander. Clark-Pinkney plays his role with understanding and aplomb. We sing with him, weep with him and feel with him.
Antonia MacFadden is Phebe. In act one, she is a child, cunning and cute; act two is 20 years on. The mature MacFadden delivers the strongest performance of the cast. She sings and acts equally well.
Director Monie takes on the role of the conjure woman Scilla. She turns in an admirable performance and proves her prowess as an actor as well as director.
“The Darker Face of the Earth” continues at the Pierce College Theatre February 22 and 23 at 10 a.m. and February 24 and 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets are a very reasonable $7 general admission and $2 for seniors and students.
This is a small price to pay for a stunning theatrical experience.
For reservations or more information, call the Theatre box office at 964-6710.
by Lynn Geyer