Climb aboard for a time-traveling train trip to Booneville, Missouri in 1946 and 2017. Yep, two different eras and one train ticket in local playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson’s thought-provoking play, “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip,” now playing through March 2.
Back to the Future featured a Deloeran. H.G. Wells invented The Time Machine. Rod Serling used time travel in several of The Twilight Zone episodes. Even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure used time travel to pass their high school history class. But, “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip” uses a locomotive and The Negro Motorist Green Book to transport her character between two very different eras while examining women’s issues, LGBT issues, and most definitely racial issues in a way only Johnson could tell.
KC Melting Pot included Johnson’s “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip” in his season offerings and furthering its commitment to produce the work of local playwrights and use local actors, providing opportunity and development for persons of color. Harvey Williams, KC Melting Pot founder, takes pride in developing the Black Voice through his productions. Johnson’s “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip,” accomplishes that goal with laughs, insight, reflection, and nostalgia, while proposing a “what if” scenario along with “where do we go from here” anticipation.
According to Johnson, “Five contemporary black women from Kansas City take weekend train trip as part of their book/wine club. Marie, a librarian, in addition to arranging the trip, is also doing research for her grandmother’s 80th birthday which involves looking through The Negro Motorist Green Book, the guidebook used by African-Americans in pre-integration America to know the safe places to stay and patronize while traveling. Marie accidentally time travels to the 1940s, where she stays in a boarding house mentioned in the ‘Green Book’.”
Friendship and family ties form the structure of the two time sequences. Current friends are toasting and riding a train in 2017 and in the distant past, another group of working women form similar bonds, but more out of necessity. Johnson’s play, set in a “Negro boarding house” in Booneville, Missouri, in actuality is a Negro brothel filled with working women–all with a particular reason for their profession. Johnson carefully lifts the veil and gives the audience a peak into 1940s middle-America and the Black society.
The look into the past–shocking, funny, poignant, touching–displays the attitudes of working-class women doing the best they can to peacefully exist, work toward their personal goal, not inflict harm on others, provide a service, and support each other. The women of 1946 era display a gentleness and sweetness in a world just after WWII. More importantly, they show a bond and strength in a time when women were marginalized. They have no cell phones, no computers, no 24-hour news programs, no color TV. And, they refer to themselves as “colored”–a term that defines the era and was at that time considered “polite.”
Johnson excels with writing from the Black perspective and can give texture to each line because the dialogues come from honesty and heart. She uses her life experiences, research, and history to craft characters that are rich, strong, simple, and complex at the same time. Even though the scenes are short, the actors develop a “feel” for the characters and project that to the audience.
Telling more about the plot would possibly ruin the intended effect of “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip.” The play is a definite journey in time to different a different era. The play deals with current society, LGBT progress, racial issues of both times, women and their development as a gender. Audiences see progress in all areas, though not always enough. But, the overall message is the bond of family and friendship.
The play, focusing on females, performs with no male characters. Playwright Johnson said she wanted to minimize the males dominance and let the woman’s perspective prevail. The play accomplishes that through the dominate performances of the cast. The lead, Khrystal Coppage gives a strong performance throughout her time travels and finds strong support by her four cast mates who undertake dual roles in dual societies. The casting and direction are perfection. The actresses re-create the style of 1940s women and then change to modern women with different attitudes, sound, dynamics. They all give polished performances, not to be missed.
For this debut production, five talented Kansas City actresses received the honor of crafting each character and making a marker for future productions to match. The cast is: Khrystal Coppage as Marie, Cecilia Belser-Patton as Lynn/Bertha, Karis Harrington as Toni/Henrietta, Jabrelle Herbin as Saige/Lucy, Lanette King as Alicia/Cotton Blue.
The Production team is: Teresa Leggard, director; Danny Kopitke, stage manager; Theresa Kelly, scenic and light design; Morgan Cole, assistant stage manager/sound design; Marica Davis costumer; Melonnie Walker, dramaturg.
“The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip” continues at the Just Off Broadway Theatre as part of KC Melting Pot’s season. Tickets can be purchased by phone, at the box office prior to performances, or via the KC Melting Pot website. “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip” continues through March 2.
Tags: “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip” review, Just Off Broadway Theatre, KC Melting Pot, Kansas City, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment