Volume 78 - Number 48 / May 6 - 12 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Theater

JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE
Written by August Wilson
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Through June 14
The Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street
212-239-6200 or www.lct.org

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

From left: Arliss Howard, Ernie Hudson, Roger Robinson

Come see this ‘Joe’ before he goes

By Scott Harrah

This excellent revival of August Wilson’s 1986 drama about people living in a Pittsburgh boarding house circa 1911 works beautifully — thanks to Bartlett Sher’s seamless direction and outstanding performances from a gifted cast. Wilson’s poetic dialogue remains crisp and timeless.     

“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is just one show in Wilson’s 10-part series about African-Americans living in various decades in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

A commercial failure when it premiered 23 years ago, this stripped down 21st century mounting features minimal sets and focuses more on the characters. Wilson’s story dabbles in the supernatural and the mystical, and there are moments when the set nearly disappears — leaving actors to tell the tale.

The enigmatic Harold Loomis (Chad L. Coleman) arrives one day with his 11-year-old daughter, Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh). A bounty hunter, Joe Turner, recently freed him from seven years of servitude. Loomis is looking for his long-lost wife, Martha, seeking the help of “people finders” Rutherford Selig (Arliss Howard) and Bynum Walker (the magnificent Roger Robinson).

At nearly three hours long, the epic struggle of lost African-American souls who come to the North to find new lives is difficult to follow at times; but the vibrant characters demand attention and add energy to Wilson’s slow, somewhat convoluted narrative.

Ernie Hudson is powerful as Seth Holly, the stern owner of the boarding house, and LaTanya Richardson Jackson is dynamic as his caring wife, Bertha. It’s amazing to watch how they interact with the people coming to the house for a week or two’s stay.

Marsha Stephanie Blake is top notch as Matty Campbell, a lonely woman in search of a decent man, and Aunjanue Ellis is a nonstop delight as her polar opposite, Molly Cunningham, a lady who always gets any man she wants. Andre Holland is consistently amusing as blues guitarist Jeremy Furlow. Chad L. Coleman, the show’s true standout is Harold — a man who’s seen his share of troubles. He brings the right amount of realism and otherworldly mystery to the character. The reunion scene with wife Martha and their daughter is both touching and emotionally disturbing as things don’t exactly go as planned.

The show’s special effects may come across as gimmicky, but it’s easy to overlook such minor flaws since director Barlett Sher gets trenchant performances from the actors — all working together as one gloriously cohesive unit. Sher’s direction makes this revival especially potent and perfectly captures Wilson’s spiritual nuances.

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