Families can be so full of surprises. Take Uncle Stevie (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) for example. He loves hip-hop but can’t keep up in his dance class. He gets kicked out of his aerobics class. Yoga? Forget it. But, boy, can he open a can of worms!
Brittany K. Allen‘s new play Redwood made its world premiere on the Main Stage of Portland Center Stage at the Armory Friday night. Replete with superb choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie, and featuring the playwright in the role of Meg Wilson, this is a show about what can happen when crazy uncles dabble in Ancestry.com.
Meg and her boyfriend Drew Tatum (Nick Ferrucci) have just moved in together. They are not yet over the starry-eyed bliss of recent cohabitation when Stevie drops the bomb. Somewhere in the deepest, darkest past, the Wilsons and the Tatums are related. It’s not icky first cousin stuff. It’s worse. It’s the S word–as in Slavery–that causes immediate and near-catastrophic discomfort. The kind of discomfort that renders an inter-racial couple madly in love with each other suddenly unable to have a conversation.
This would be tragic indeed if it weren’t so darn funny. Allen’s genius lies in her ability to grapple with the issues of our history and our country’s racism in its many incarnations; to play real, hard and fair to get every member of the audience engaged in what she is saying; and to do it with comedy, wit, and grace.
There are ghosts in Redwood, too, thanks to Uncle Steve’s research. Meg, Drew and their families encounter ancestors they never knew they had, and all of them have stories to tell. Can these Millennials learn to live in peace with them?
This show resonates with an excellent cast including Orion Bradshaw as Tatum; Charles Grant as the Instructor; Jennifer Lanier as Beverly Wilson; Ashley Mellinger as Harriet/Hattie; and Andrea Vernae as Allie/Alameda. And don’t forget the dancing. Not only can they act, they can dance!
Director for this exciting world premiere is Chip Miller. The new associate producer at PCS, he comes to Portland from Kansas City, Missouri. The production team includes Brittany Vasta, scenic designer; Alison Heryer, costume designer; Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, lighting designer; Phil Johnson, sound designer; Benjamin Fainstein, dramaturg; Jamie Lynne Simons, stage manager; and Dana Petersen, production assistant.
And what about the name of the play, Redwood? I like to think of it as representative of the Tree of Life–huge, thick, ancient, and capable of hiding many stories until they are ready to be told.
Redwood runs through November 17 at the Armory, and is suitable for ages 12 and up.