Lines In the Dust a Must See

Lines in the Dust, the current mind-blowing production of the Tennessee Women’s Theater Project, needs to be seen by everyone. It is a perspective piece that will rotate like a hologram right before your very eyes. Staged in the revitalized historic J Alexander Looby Theater, this drama rings out unsettling human narratives reminiscent of Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, had either been a single, black woman determined to propel her daughter into a world that had rejected her. The plot is a shifting exploration of the intersectional betrayals of the American Dream. The operative word here is dream. This three person tug-of-war wakes up those paying attention to some harsh, nightmarish American realities.

The play opens inside an overpriced home on the right side of the tracks, a symbol of the dream deferred. While in most American storytelling we pit protagonist against antagonist, these three characters, so different and so alike, play protagonist all against a social disaster of epic proportions. This is a play about how we educate our children, how we ourselves were educated and whether now is not the time to change course drastically, no matter the short term cost. 

The play’s opening dialogue between Dr. Beverly Long and Denitra Morgan, played by Colette Divine and  Tamiko Robinson Steele respectively, is taut and bright, offering our first glimpse into the wary optimism of these truly American souls. Their dance together throughout the story shows mirrored elegance and grit. Eventually they are asked to debate and decide how we pick winners and losers in our little rat races. The enormity of the roles seems to weigh a bit more heavily on Ms. Divine, yet that may be more a consequence of being on stage with the tremendously talented Ms. Robinson Steele. At the same time, in the character of Principal Beverly Long, Divine is asked to extend her arms out and hold the community to the dream, a task impossible in a community where dreams are so often denied.

Alan Lee delivers in his performance of DiMaggio, matching the dynamic sparkle and crack of his counter-parts. His character’s motives play out transparently before your eyes. He harnesses key insight into the melancholy embedded in the “Make America Great Again” slogan now so commonly bandied about, and his character takes a stab at a much needed rewrite. A consummate character actor, Lee fully inhabits this multi-dimensional portrayal of what could have been yet another stereotype. He demonstrates great comedic relief in a play that demands it.

The overall cascade of attacks and retreats, reflections and surrenders, parries and thrusts —- while sometimes heavy, is mostly gripping. The inspired language and straightforward blocking allows the story to seep in and tumble dry inside your mind. The audience is drawn into the dual roles of perpetrator and witness. Lines in the Dust is compelling, relatable and delivered in a way that won’t let the watcher turn away. This really is a production no one wants to miss.

Written by Nikkole Salter, the powerful story line of aspirations and rejection, nostalgia and anxiety —- pummel our three heroes on their journey. The language easily code-shifts between “urban and sub-urban” without much tripping over cliches. There is at times some forced tension in the long speeches, but they are made sweet by the delicate self-disclosure written for these characters. The piece gives voice to a chorus of legitimate concerns, staging an unsettling closing curtain where each character has been changed by  the other. There is neither a moral nor a simple solution. The curtain closes on a dim, flickering hope, perhaps only a sad dream. 

The target audience for this production is any person who feels educating our children is essential and a moral imperative. As a white, male, middle-child —-the only one of my family selected to be bussed across Norfolk, VA to integrate an underperforming school, I was rearranged by the show. I was reminded of my out-of-placedness and my hunger for understanding. Back then my role models were wise black adults who answered my questions in the classroom and avoided stopping the fights out in the halls and on the playground. So confused are we as a community when we chose to value our own children more than the the child of our neighbor, how misguided.

This play will change how you see the world. There is no more powerful praise for a presentation of ideas and passions. Get yourself in the theater sometime during their final week so you too can be changed. Lines in the Dust runs one more week from October 19th to the 22nd, 2017. Thursday nights tickets are slightly discounted. For more information, check out Brown Paper Tickets.


Popular Posts