Directed by TaRon Patton
Produced by Congo Square Theatre
in cooperation with Pegasus Players
At Beacon Street Hull House (former home of Black Ensemble Theater), Chicago
Heartwarming journey of self-discovery wonderfully stage
“One day … I’m ‘n a say what I know. We can take our hate and let it open us so wide we can love anybody.”-Vera from Bulrusher
Set in Northern California in 1955 in Boonville near the Navarro River, Bulrusher unfolds as a quaint tale of self-discovery and self-identity. With a river oriented set (designed by Andrei Onegin), Eisa Davis blends the motif of the river as sanctuary with the isolation of rural folks. Playwright Davis uses the strange jargon called “Boontling” – the idiosyncratic lingo of Boonville’s long-isolated Anderson Valley folks that includes substituting labels for names. Thus Logger, Boy and Madame, Schoolch and Bulrusher refer to local folks. The first four are obvious and “bulrusher’ means foundling or illegitimate child. Once my ear tuned-in, I began to appreciate the rural lingo.
We meet Bulrusher (the magnificent talented Ericka Ratcliff), a pure innocent at one with nature and her river. She was left adrift in a basket 18 years ago on the Navarro River; found and raised by Schoolch (Joe Zarrow), the local white school teacher. Burusher is one of only two black residents of the rural logging Northern California town. Bulrusher is a clairvoyant who can read the future once she and her subject place their hands in water. This power renders Bulrusher as a witch status among many of the town’s residents.
We meet Madame (Elizabeth Laidlaw), the proprietor of a whorehouse as she struggles to make her establishment classy. Schoolch sits silently at her bar never partaking in the trade while Logger (Adrian Lamonte Bryd) tries to court Madame but settles for her trade. We see Boy ( Courtney Crouse) the folk song righter totally smitten by Bulrusher. The two awkwardly court.
The tranquility of Boonville is shaken with the arrival of a black girl from the South. Bulrusher picks up Vera (Tamberla Perry) on the road into town. The two instantly become friends and Vera is the first black female Bulrusher has ever known. As Bulrusher takes Vera to her river sanctuary, the two share the water. Bulrusher learns about hate,sex, and society from Vera – who has a secret of her own. It turns out the Logger is Vera’s uncle. Logger immediately take Vera into his home. Once her learns that Vera is pregnant via being raped by a white cop in Birmingham, Alabama, Logger seeks Madame’s help. She also take Vera into her care. Bulrusher fall for Vera after Vera kisses her. I’ll not give away more.
Bulrusher is a coming-of-age story about a pure innocent as she struggles to find both her personal identity, her racial identity, and her sexual identity. Finding out who and what you are is a daunting journey but Bulrusher’s strength and her rare powers serves her well. Once she comes to terms and meets her mother, she emerges as s woman ready to face the changing world of the 1950’s
Her journey is well constructed by playwright Eisa Davis’ blend of motifs and themes. The local color is enhanced bu the jargon; the wooden set complete with a river bed and the 50’s style costumes all work to create a tranquil setting. The play hints at the racial upheaval coming to America and it references the plight of Native Americans but ultimately Bulrusher is a play about discovering and accepting one personal identity. Ir suggests that young folks not listen to society’s labels but determine for themselves who they are.
I was taken by the fabulously sparkling performance by Ericka Ratcliff as Bulrusher. She exudes innocence, warmth and energy; her eyes sparkle with enthusiasm and honesty. Elizabeth Laidlaw and Courtney Crouse offered excellent work. Director TaRon Patton paced well as she built both the peacefulness of the town and the dramatic ark seamlessly. Burusher is a gem. Congo Square Theatre, once again, demonstrates their artistic craft through their selection and stellar production of Bulrusher. Don’t miss this show!
At Hull House (former home of the Black Ensemble) 4520 N. Beacon Street, Chicago, IL, www.congosquaretheatre.org tickets $35, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through November 25, 2012