When all the elements that are needed to make a production work come together as beautifully as they do in the revival of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, now playing at the Belasco Theatre, it is rare indeed. When the writing is as good as anyone could ever want, when the direction is impeccable, when the ensemble cast believably become the characters, when the design team enhances the text so as to open up the play to a new dimension, when the audience listens intently to every word being said, being moved to tears or joining in the laughter of the plight of the people on stage whose lives are being laid bare for us to connect with, you have a brilliant production. This is a brilliant production.
It is elegant. Down to earth. Poetic. Stylish. Lyrical. Mystical. Lusty and magical. There is nothing elitist nor pretentious about the story of Seth Holly (Ernie Hudson) and his wife Bertha (Latanya Richardson Jackson) who run a boarding house in 1911 Pittsburgh catering to “the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves who have wandered into the city with guitars and Bibles” according to the program notes written by August Wilson, looking to start a new life. Looking to see where they can fit in – for the place that you are supposed to be. Looking to find the song within – that every soul has in their heart. Somehow, Mr. Wilson has made this search universal. Something that everyone can relate to.
Herald Loomis (Chad L. Coleman) arrives searching for his wife, Martha. A quiet and intense man who has his eleven year old daughter Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh) at his side. Bynum Walker (Roger Robinson) with his bag of magical, mystical roots to bring luck to those he wants to help is chock full of stories and is willing to share his wisdom – of which he has lots – to all those he comes in contact with. An always half inebriated Rutherford Selig (Arliss Howard) a white finder of people for a fee promises to try to find Herald’s wife, Martha (Danai Gurira).
Living also in the house is Jeremy (Andre Holland) a road worker womanizer who plays guitar and charms the two ladies who show up to rent a room – Mattie (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and the more worldly Molly (Aunjanue Ellis) who has got her eye on Seth. Living next door is young Reuben (Michael Cummings) who befriends Zonia in the vegetable garden – just part of the breathtaking set design by Michael Yeargan. Taking us from the naturalistic kitchen to a free and open space – that lies within their minds. It is sensational.
Adding to the authentic look of the show are the costumes by Catherine Zuber. Lighting by Brian MacDevitt and music by Taj Mahal add immensely to the other worldliness of the piece.
But without its director, Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone would not be the incredible experience that it is. He deserves every accolade coming his way. His vision has made the play an event that cannot be missed. It is theatrical bliss where there is hope for a new generation and love and laughter reign supreme.