Jeff Smith 12:01 p.m., March 29
"Our names are our fates and our proper place," a teacher named Schoolch tells the title character, an orphan discovered in the bulrushes 18 years ago. Eisa Davis's drama is a tale of identities lost and found, of truths smothered and revealed. It's 1955, the eve of the Civil Rights movement. Young, mystical Bulrusher reads peoples' future in water they've touched. She grew up in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, where some locals still speak Boontling (a language invented in the 1880s, at first for people to stump each other, then to make objects more personal) and where the African-American Bulrusher was so isolated she had no idea about racism or sexuality. The arrival of Vera, a black woman from Alabama with a secret, awakens Bulrusher to realities both horrific and wonderful. It's easy to see why Davis's drama was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Character- and language-driven, it unfolds like a musical score about the varieties of innocence and experience. New Village Arts's opening night had many, but not all, of the play's elements in place. Kristianne Kurner's scenic design, a handsome triptych of three raised locales (a spare cabin, a manzanita near a river, the front room of a brothel, all backed by pine tree trunks), featured graceful rain effects. Mary Larson's rustic costumes and blues-rich background music enhanced the look and mood. The production, however, sometimes went fast when it should go slower, and vice versa. The cast often sped through the poetry and Boontling; and scenes often lagged with slow stage business, which lengthened the evening. Sandra Ellis-Troy scored as Madame (don't call her "madam," even though she runs the brothel), a crusty perfectionist who also has a secret. Grandison M. Phelps III adds upbeat Logger, Boonville's only black man, to his list of impressive performances. Tim Parker, with pomaded hair and James Dean outfit, energizes every scene, be it crooning with his guitar or being "Stook On" (infatuated with) Bulrusher. Though she could savor the language more, Jasmine Allen made Bulrusher part perplexed teen and part woodland sprite. A touching portrayal.
Worth a try.
When: Ongoing until Sunday, March 1, 2009
- Sundays, 2pm
- Thursdays, 8pm
- Fridays, 8pm
- Saturdays, 3pm & 8pm