Friday, July 14, 2006
Let’s forget for a minute that I did part of my growing up in Denver and I had never heard of Sarah Breedlove (or Madame CJ Walker for that matter), who got her start in that city, until I visited Chicago’s DuSable Museum. There’s something wrong about a local history curriculum that overlooks the entrepreneur who pioneered the uniquely American business model that went on to influence outfits like Avon and Mary Kay.
Oh. Right. Black. And a woman. Can you blame the boys writing those books for thinking America’s first African-American Millionaire was invisible? (F*ckers.)
Let’s talk instead about the fact that I have a serious theatrical crush on the two women who held my attention last night in the Goodman Theatre’s production of Regina Taylor’s Dreams of Sarah Breedlove -- Ms L Scott Caldwell and Ms Cheryl Lynn Bruce.
These two have known each other and shared the stage since the 70s, and to watch them together is sheer joy. L Scott anchors the stage regardless of the scene she occupies – generous in all that she gives her colleagues, but careful never to shine so large that she puts her fellow players to shame. All the actors put on a good show last night – but when Ms Bruce took the stage with Ms Caldwell – well, we went somewhere entirely different, didn’t we?
That’s some chops.
Lucky for us they occupy the opening scene, so after you’ve witnessed that beautiful musical play back and forth between two friends, you’re hooked for the rest.
(I should mention here that Ms Bruce has become my indicator, like a red sky at dawn, for knowing how many tissues to pack. If she’s on the cast list – as she was for this show and for Mary Zimmerman’s Trojan Women -- the probability is high that the fluid output will be greater than the back of the hand can accommodate.)
The rest unwinds as a lovely narrative thread – nothing surprising or avant-garde about the storytelling – just solid and true, leaving you at last in a shuddering cathartic heap at the end as the final lines are spooned out.
One of the details that struck me last night was the way stagehands were used to change the scenes. In the opening act two silent players help to transition the set between scenes – we’ll meet them later in the second act – but tellingly in this first one, as they do their work, they engage (albeit silently) with the players who are transitioning to the next.
They weren’t invisible. Which was a point of some consequence.
I suspect litwit will have much to say about the inanity of the questions that come up in the Q&A session with some of the players and the artistic director (don’t let me down, girlfriend). And yes: it was just as bad she says. (update: permalink)
But even that couldn’t outshine what I took home last night: The feeling of a good cry and sense made out of the chaos – for just a brief little while.
God I love a good show.