Century old play ‘Rachel’ makes K.C. debut

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Somewhere, I heard and learned “We live our lives in shades of gray,” and, that may be true, but “Rachel,” the current production at the Just Off Broadway Theatre shows that 100 years ago, the color line existed between black and white. Amazingly, a century later, the color line continues and “white advantage” spells more opportunity.

“Rachel,” a three-act play written in 1916 about an African-America family and their struggles holds similarities to current society. Act I deals with the reality of lynching Black males for speaking out against a white society. “Rachel” shows the effects of a young mother who experienced her husband and child subjected to hanging by members of the KKK.

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To escape from the past, the widow moves to the North to save her two remaining children and give them an education and hope for a brighter future–all in vain. Even with a college education, a teaching job for a young black woman could not be secured. Neither could an engineering job for her brother. The hopes of a brighter day did not pan out.

Act three deals with the personal struggles and choices whether to stand on the sidelines and accept or rebel and not contributing to the problem with new children in a prejudice society. “Rachel” dealt with the problems of race in America in 1916, and amazingly, some of those problems can be found still, today.

According to JOB proprietor, Harvey Williams, this was the first play by a black playwright that discussed lynching and opened up opportunities for other playwrights to deal with the same topic. “Rachel” unfortunately deals with the topic, but missed the chance to fully develops the effects hanging would have on the families. The play would have been stronger had it continued to portray the social and emotional effects capital punishment left behind for the family survivors. Still, “Rachel” provided a starting point for discussion

The play becomes disjointed and melodramatic, at times preachy, and moves on to focus more on the character of Rachel, a young woman who loves brown and black babies, yearning for the day she has her own brood. The choices Rachel makes create more of a soap-opera saga about Rachel and never returns to the subject of unjust hanging.

The story does continue the idea of social injustice in America and the fact that persons of color do not succeed in a white society. Rachel questions whether her own children will face the same obstacles she, her brother, and her mother face, daily. The crux of the play comes when Rachel’s adopted son, at age seven, becomes subjected to bullying and being called a racially-charged name. You guessed it… “The N word.”

The play makes some valid points. It shows how society was. It shows the inhumanity of many persons. While racial prejudice in the South was more open and acceptable to their white society, in the North, that prejudice was more obscure. Amazingly, America continues to have KKK societies, White Supremacy groups, an other similar groups, akin to those of a century ago.

While the script failed in some ways, it proves a shockingly similarity to current society. White advantage still allows skin color to determine some successes or failures. It’s a sad situation that education and open minds can resolve. Unfortunately, society changes slowly, too slowly.

“Our hands are clean; theirs are red with blood. We are destined to failure – they, to success. Their children shall grow up in hope; ours, in despair.” – Tom in Angelina W. Grimke’s “Rachel.”

Heap lots of credit on Harvey Williams for his decision to include “Rachel” for his fourth season at the Just Off Broadway Theatre. “Rachel,” though 100 years old, made its Kansas City debut with this production.

Directed by Nicole Hodges Persley, “Rachel” comes to life through a dynamic cast of actors. All of the main characters give strong, stunning performances. Shawna Downing deserves a lot of the credit because she never leaves the stage and must deliver a multi-layered character who undergoes the most changes from act to act. Sam Salary’s character similarly develops from short bits in the first acts to one of the central and pivotal characters in Act III. The balance of the adult cast have great stage presence and good characterization. As for the younger cast. They can steal any scene. Credit Nicole Hodges Persley in selecting the right blend to provide the right chemistry for “Rachel.”

“Rachel” Adult Cast: Shawna Downing – Rachel Loving; Lynn King – Mrs. Mary Loving; Lewis Morrow – Thomas Loving; Aishah Ogbeh – Mrs. Lane; Sam Salary – John Strong. “Rachel” Youth Cast: Madden Tanner and Prince Davynn Donnell – Jimmy Mason; Arianna Craig – Nancy; Haley James – Ethel Lane; Hannah James – Martha; Reina Tucker – Jenny. “Rachel” Production Crew: Directed by Nicole Hodges Persley; Rana Esfandiary – Assistant Director; Warren Deckert – Technical Director/Designer; Laura Burt – Stage Manager; Anna Oakley – Assistant Stage Manager; David Ruis – Dramaturg.

The show closes Nov. 20. “Rachel” will inspire discussion and thoughts after leaving the theatre. The show rips the covers off topics that need both discussion and healing. For more information go to The Melting Pot’s website. www.kcmeltingpot.com

Tags: Theater, Performing Arts, Arts & Entertainment, Just Off Broadway Theatre, The Melting Pot, “Rachel”, Kansas City, Kansas City Theater, Drama

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