By Gail Parrish.
Directed by Ashley Honore Roberson.
Produced by Polarity Ensemble Theatre.
At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago.
World Premiere drama explores the inter generational trauma of slavery in America.
Polarity Ensemble Theatre has mounted the finest play in their history with a moving generational trauma of slavery in America –LEAVINGS by Gail Parrish. This is one of the most powerful new works yet on a Chicago stage this year!
LEAVINGS explores how a history of trauma impacts generations of African-American families. We meet Mama Bea (RjW Mays), the 111 year old matriarch of a Chicago family while in her final days becomes obsessed with uniting with the white Governor Skinner of Mississippi (Richard Engling) in order to set to rest the spirits that have haunted her family over 180 years. She has evidence that she and the governor are both descended from a nineteenth century slave owner who left the White half of the family with a heritage of privilege and economic security while the Black half with a history of familial separation, segregation and violence. Mama Bae knows that only by uniting the White and Black sides in a ritual of reconciliation can the tortured spirits that haunt the family be put to rest.
We see how many from the Black side can surpass being “high yellow” (light skinned) by showing blues eyes and completely white skin and straight hair yet have Black genes. Each generation can exhibit some or all of the White or Black side of the family. We the effects of each-white for privilege; Black for segregation and violence.
LEAVINGS deftly moves back and forth in time as we witness the effects of color on the different sides of the family. The presence of the spirits is symbolized by the strong scent of roses. The family history and how it impacted several generations including the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow rules were effective and cleverly dramatized as the ghosts reacted to the pain and suffering. These unresolved racial issues and their effects still need to be explored. Plays like Leavings a step toward coming to terms with the pains of the past. LEAVINGS is also a well written sprawling drama with many terrific performances.
RjW Mays as Mama Bae, Richard Engling as Governor Skinner and Geno Walker as Benny/Rafe lead a fine cast working on a terrific set design by Charles C. Palis. Playwright Gail Parrish evokes Black mysticism reminiscent of August Wilson’s plotting. Parrish is a fine new voice being heard in the discussion of Black Lives Matter. This is a engaging and important world premiere, don’t miss it!
Date Reviewed: October 23, 2016.
For more info checkout the LEAVINGS page at theatreinchicago.com.
At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336. www.petheatre.com, tickets $25, $20 seniors, $10 students, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through November 20, 2016.