The Justice Theater Project's stripped-down Ragtime | Theater | Indy Week
Pin It

The Justice Theater Project's stripped-down Ragtime 

Connie McCoy Rogers and Allen Brown in "Ragtime"

Photo by Benjamin Tran

Connie McCoy Rogers and Allen Brown in "Ragtime"

Given its imposing requirements—including a cast of 40, a 26-piece orchestra and a stage big enough to hold it all—it's no surprise that Ragtime isn't produced more often than it is. Since this adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's turn-of-the-century novel has challenged regional companies with exponentially larger resources, we wondered how The Justice Theater Project was going to pull it off.

Now we know: through several compromises that place this sprawling social landscape of early 20th-century America on a very small canvas. Still, when the music's good in this production, it has the power to move us.

In lieu of a live orchestra, this version uses a prerecorded instrumental soundtrack that sacrifices most of the spontaneity. Then the company orients this oversized production along the narrow sides of Claire Hall, instead of its broad back wall. That dynamic shoehorns cast and chorus onto Lex von Blommestein's claustrophobic set; its rudimentary timbers don't convey the Victorian settings of its central family's upper-class digs in New Rochelle.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's songs are moving, and their impact remains substantial. The night I saw this double-cast production, Mary Kathryn Walston's sharp-eyed Mother sensed the changes coming in affecting renditions of "Goodbye My Love" and "Back to Before." Allen Brown's striking work as Coalhouse Walker fueled the stirring duet "On the Wheels of a Dream" with Connie McCoy Rogers, playing Sarah, his sweetheart. Rogers graced her solo, "Your Daddy's Son," as well.

Jason Hassell's bland Father sang, but rarely acted through, his character's songs. And while Deb Royals is normally a much stronger director, this staging stayed too often static. Bits of business didn't always fill the time that soloists and chorus had to wait before the soundtrack came to the next verse, and problematic tech made audio balance between the recording and the unmiked singers an issue throughout the night.

Strong supporting work came from Ian Finley as Mother's Younger Brother, Coty Cockrell as Tateh, Alison Lawrence as labor radical Emma Goldman and Jade Arnold as a stern Booker T. Washington. Under Carolyn Colquitt's musical direction, a mighty chorus gave us chills, during the title song as well as "New Music" and Terra Hodge's memorable funeral song, "Till We Reach That Day."

It's Ragtime on a shoestring, but when the shoe fits, it's worth the wearing.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Forgotten histories."

Tags:

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Theater



Twitter Activity

Comments

This looks wonderful! I cant wait until it goes on the road so we can see it in California!

by Michelle Nogales on Pioneering African-American Sci-Fi Author Octavia Butler’s Empathy and Foresight Take the Stage in Parable of the Sower (Theater)

Spelling error for one of the owners of RRE: it's Rebekah Carmichael, not Rachel Carmichael. Also, the shows run between …

by J Robert Raines on Raleigh Room Escapes Slips Through the Keyhole Between Room-Escape Games and Immersive Theater (Theater)

Most Recent Comments

This looks wonderful! I cant wait until it goes on the road so we can see it in California!

by Michelle Nogales on Pioneering African-American Sci-Fi Author Octavia Butler’s Empathy and Foresight Take the Stage in Parable of the Sower (Theater)

Spelling error for one of the owners of RRE: it's Rebekah Carmichael, not Rachel Carmichael. Also, the shows run between …

by J Robert Raines on Raleigh Room Escapes Slips Through the Keyhole Between Room-Escape Games and Immersive Theater (Theater)

your 20 sept review of playmakers current offering missed the boat, big time. the play portrayed all the characters as …

by Pointyhead on The Cake Edits Reality to Ignore the Everyday Consequences of Bible Belt Homophobia (Theater)

Oh, I'd be amused even without the in-jokes. These folks are having a great time, and the setting is transportive. …

by needsomeokra on Wants Upon a Time Is a Commedia Dell'arte Interrogation of What Happily Ever After Really Means (Theater)

The photo credit is incorrect. The photo was taken and edited by Areon Mobasher for Burning Coal Theatre Company. Please …

by Areon Mobasher on The Greeks Streamlines Sophocles’s Theban Trilogy Into Three Nimble, Strikingly Modern One-Acts (Theater)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation