ACT II: A look at area stages: ‘Bulrusher’ at Congo Square
By HEDY WEISS Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org October 31, 2012 5:32PM
Tamberla Perry as Vera (left) and Ericka Ratcliff as Bulrusher in “Bulrusher” at Congo Square Theatre.
SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED Through Nov. 25
Beacon Street Theater, 4520 N. Beacon Tickets, $35 Visit www.Congo SquareTheatre.org.
Updated: December 5, 2012 6:14AM
I’m all for poetry and magic in the theater; they are essential ingredients of the art form. But when both the language and the mysticism are so mannered and self-conscious that they start to call attention to themselves, the play suffers. Such is the case with Eisa Davis’ “Bulrusher,” now in a production by Congo Square (in cooperation with Pegasus Players). The play stretches belief on every level, but it is partially salvaged by several fine performances and some exceptionally sophisticated design work.
Set in 1955 (we hear about the Emmett Till murder), Davis’ drama is something of a female version of the Bible’s Moses story, shot through with all the identity issues of our own time. Its title character, now well into her teens (played by Ericka Ratcliff) was just a newborn when she was sent floating down a river in a basket by her mother, and ended up somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (the geography is a bit confusing).
The only African-American girl in the small town, Bulrusher is cocky, independent andentrepreneurial, and possesses a special gift for telling people’s fortunes through the medium of water. She was taken in as an infant foundling by Schoolch (Joe Zarrow), the quiet, nerdy white math teacher (this alone is more than a little creepy), and now often hangs out at the local brothel run by the attractive, hard-nosed businesswoman, Madame (Elizabeth Laidlaw), who also is more than a touch racist.
Madame is being pursued in marriage by both Schoolch and Logger (the appealing Adrian Lamonte Byrd), the poetic black man who is both a former lover and employee. Meanwhile, Bulrusher is being “courted” by Boy (the spirited Courtney Crouse), a naive young white fellow with a gift for songwriting. But HE immediately is put on the back burner with the arrival of Vera (Tamberla Perry), a pretty young black woman from Birmingham, Alabama who has come in search of her uncle.
Vera is the first black woman Bulrusher has ever encountered (think of this as a sexual twist on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”), and something changes in her, as well as in the more urbane Vera. And there is more.
Ratcliff and Perry, superb actresses, are beguiling together. And the other actors, under the direction of TaRon Patton, are just right, even if there is not one character or situation here that does not stretch belief from the word go.
Andrei Onegin’s set and Liviu Pasare’s projections are beautifully atmospheric and demonstrate that all that was needed to make the Beacon Street space come alive all these years was the work of innovative designers.